Senate Energy Bill: Net Metering Policies on the Line

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Net metering laws for solar are under attack… can the U.S. Senate protect solar owners?

An unusually bi-partisan bill has been gaining support in the United States senate to address America’s energy policies. Co-sponsors Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) drafted the Energy Policy Modernization Act specifically to identify areas of common ground that would avoid the gridlock that has plagued congress on nearly every issue this year.  Murkowski told the Alaska Dispatch News: “I want to change energy policy and you can’t do that without the legislation becoming law.” Among the 200+ amendments filed for the bill are an amendment to protect net metering from the current series of attacks  against it in some states. Predictably, there is also an anti-net metering amendment up for consideration.

However, a controversial amendment to address the water quality issues of Flint, Michigan has been tacked onto the bill in the 11th hour, causing the passage of the energy bill to stall. The move has been called “Gamesmanship” by Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. At the time of this writing, there is no indication of when the amendment, and the funding for the crisis in Flint, will be resolved.

The pro-net metering amendment, filed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) would prevent state utilities boards from gutting net metering policies. PV-Magazine explains:

“The amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012) would add new language to PURPA, a landmark 1978 energy law, to require that state regulators include the benefits of distributed solar in any change to net metering valuations. The Reid-King amendment would further prohibit regulators from retroactively changing net metering arrangements for existing customers.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, right, and Maine Audubon Executive Director Charles Gauvin survey a new solar array.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, right, and Maine Audubon Executive Director Charles Gauvin survey a new solar array.

Reid’s home state of Nevada has been waging economic warfare on solar owners by levying unfair charges on net metered solar installations, as well as introducing new, restrictive rate structures. Not only are Nevada’s regulators attempting to eliminate new net metered systems, but they are retroactively changing existing net metering agreements as well.

Predictably, The National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC) joined the utility industry lobby and fossil fuel groups in its opposition to the King-Reid amendment.

Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has introduced the so-called “Ratepayer Fairness” amendment to PURPA..  “requiring state regulatory authorities and non-regulated boards to examine whether new policies would result in cost shifts among customers, where a large customer class ends up cross-subsidizing a technology (re: solar) only used by a few customers.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice called for the adoption of the Reid/King amendment. Evan Dube, director of public policy for Sunrun and a spokesman for the alliance, said in a statement:

“We applaud Senators King and Reid for introducing legislation that protects consumer choice and free market competition. “The King-Reid legislation stands in stark contrast to Arizona Senator Flake’s amendment that seeks to weaken states’ and consumers’ rights…Senator Flake’s legislation is a blatant attempt to impose more regulations that benefit Arizona Public Service and other state-sponsored monopolies to the detriment of homeowners. The utility trade lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, wants to eliminate all forms of energy competition, and Senator Flake is doing their bidding,Fortunately, consumers have powerful advocates in Senators King and Reid.”

Mr. Dube makes clear in his statement the gravity of the net metering situation. Rooftop solar (more accurately, independent solar)  is currently under attack from a number of different directions. Flake and the Edison Institute have presented an Orwellian version of “fairness” in which independent ownership of solar can be crushed, competition in the utility industry eliminated, and any hope for  free market competition is destroyed.

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About the Author: Rich Dana has spent the last 18 years in and around the solar industry. He is a former energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and senior partner at Plan B Consulting LLP. His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.

 

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