Electric utilities lobbying to end rooftop solar

Published 6:15 am Wednesday, March 6, 2019

By Andy McDonald

Guest Columnnist

Kentucky’s electric utilities are trying once again to end solar net metering, force out competition from small solar businesses, and eliminate a valuable option customers have for controlling their energy costs. Despite failing to pass similar legislation in previous years, the utilities are back with virtually the same bill from 2018, now known as SB100.

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Without offering any supporting data, the utilities claim that net metering customers shift costs onto other ratepayers because they don’t use as much energy from the grid. At a time when KU is trying to raise residential rates an average $9.63 per month, it’s hard to take them seriously when they piously claim to be defending the rights of their ratepayers.

If they are so concerned about their customers, why are they seeking huge rate hikes simply to increase investor profits by an additional $42 million per year? That’s right – KU’s rate increase is not to cover new infrastructure costs or services, but to increase investor profits.

A 2018 analysis by the Kentucky Resources Council, based on data provided by the utilities to the US Energy Information Administration, found that the cost impact of net metering to other ratepayers would be, at most, less than one penny per month. That’s if you assume, as the utilities do, that net metering provides no other benefits to the grid or society.

But net metering does provide benefits to the utility and other ratepayers. For example, net metering customers often feed power back to the grid on sunny summer afternoons, at times of peak demand. This reduces the utilities’ need to operate their most costly “peaking” power plants.

When you consider that KU’s “Time-of-Use” customers pay 27 cents/kWh for electricity on summer afternoons, while net metering customers are only credited at the normal retail rate (about 10 cents/kWh), you realize that net metering does provide real value to the utility.

Solar energy offers great economic opportunities for Kentucky. It already employs more than a thousand workers here and that figure could grow, in every part of the state, with the right policies in place. If we were to expand net metering (rather than killing it), we would make solar energy available to schools, municipalities, and larger business customers.

If we enabled solar leases, a whole new business model would become possible, making solar savings available to many, many more people. These are the types of changes that are needed to our net metering law, to expand the benefits of solar throughout the Commonwealth.

Will our legislators stand with the utilities, who claim to be defending their customers while at the same time slapping them with huge rate hikes? Or will they stand with their constituents, and support their right to reduce their energy costs and expand economic opportunity in their communities?

Andy McDonald is the director of Sustainable Systems Programs for Earth Tools Inc. in Owenton, Kentucky and a member of the Kentucky Solar Energy Industries Association. He can be reached at andyboeke@yahoo.com.