Whitesburg KY

Bill would affect home use of solar panels

A bill pushed by electric utilities that would cut the amount paid to homeowners who generate excess electricity at their homes has stalled in the Kentucky Senate.

SB 214, known as the “Net Metering Bill,” would have allowed each utility company to negotiate its own rate for electricity produced from such things a solar panels, wind turbines, and whole-house generators. It would also restrict refunds for electric generation to a single meter, meaning residents who produce excess power for their home would not be able to pass savings along to bills for other properties they own that are metered separately.

Sen. Jared Carpenter, Republican of Berea, sponsored the bill and is also chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where the bill was posted by leadership. Carpenter temporarily pulled the bill from consideration last week, he said, because he was unable to find a compromise between power companies and the solar industry that he was comfortable submitting to the committee.

There is little time left to consider the bill. March 8 was the last regular work day, but there were four more work days left in the session, with legislators returning March 14 and 15 for concurrence on bills changed by the other house of the legislature. The governor will then have two weeks to veto any bills that he chooses to, and the legislature will return on March 29 for two days to consider overriding any vetoes.

Critics of the Net Metering Bill say it would discourage homeowners from installing solar panels or other renewable energy solutions by making it harder to recoup the costs of installation. Power companies now have to pay residents the retail cost of electricity for any excess power produced. Supporters of the bill, mostly power companies, say retail credits force other users to subsidize solar electricity.

Ed Fortner, director of Berea Municipal Utilities, said he’s sees both sides of the argument because utilities still have to pay for poles, lines, maintenance and other costs and people producing excess power don’t contribute to that. But that excess power also helps utilities by reducing the demand for electricity generated elsewhere, and it helps customers by allowing them to recoup the cost of systems that can still be quite expensive.

Berea has its own 60 KW solar farm, and leases more than 200 solar panels to customers for 20 years for $700 each. Power produced by the panels is metered and credited to the customer’s account. Any surplus is purchased at retail price from residential customers up to 10 KW, and at wholesale price from commercial customers above 10 KW. Only about 40 percent of the solar farm is currently leased, but Fortner said it helps Berea Utilities because it still produces electricity and helps the city meet its demand, even though the percentage is small at around one-half of one percent of total demand. He said it still makes sense for his utility to use solar and pay retail for the surplus doesn’t hurt it.

“I think for the most part, that (SB 214) is driven by investor-owned utilities,” Fortner said.

Carpenter’s secretary said he was on the Senate floor and could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The bill is similar to model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative lobbying group that has pushed net metering bills and other corporate-friendly bills in Congress, in state legislatures and in local governments across the nation.

ALEC calls itself a “partnership of America’s state legislators and members of the private sector.” According to SourceWatch, a liberal-leaning political watchdog group run by the Center for Media and Democracy, approximately 98 percent of ALEC’s funding comes from corporations and corporate foundations, including foundations run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Bills submitted to legislators by ALEC include so called “right-to-work” bills aimed at preventing companies from deducting union dues from paychecks, school privatization bills, and bills aimed at privatizing Medicare and deregulating health insurance companies.

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