A recent letter from the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) to The State Journal (“Letter: Columnist presents 'distorted view' of new law,” Oct. 18) expressed support for changes to Kentucky’s net metering law and claimed that the new law is not “anti-solar.” The letter dismissed concerns about how the law will impact access to solar energy and the harm it could do to Kentucky’s solar businesses.
The author repeats the electric utilities’ talking points about net metering customers needing to "pay their fair share" for use of the grid. This argument disregards the many benefits net metering provides to utilities and other ratepayers.
For example, solar generators supply power to the grid when it is most valuable — on sunny summer afternoons, when demand peaks and utilities have to turn on their most expensive “peaking” power plants. Net metering customers reduce the need to run these costly peaking plants, providing savings for all customers.
Consider that Kentucky Utilities (KU) has an optional time-of-use rate, which charges customers 27 cents per kilowatt hour on summer afternoons. Net metering customers supply solar power to KU at these times but are only credited at the normal retail rate, about 10 cents/kwh. KU clearly benefits from this exchange.
The CEA fails to acknowledge how disruptive the new net metering law is to rooftop solar in Kentucky, for consumers and business. Under traditional net metering, the rules for using solar were simple, predictable and allowed people to easily evaluate the economic savings of a solar investment. The new law has created a very uncertain and unpredictable market environment, which harms businesses and consumers who want to invest in solar.
The CEA column was misleading when it justified changing Kentucky’s net metering law by referencing California and Hawaii. These two states have solar markets that are vastly larger and more developed than Kentucky’s. Hawaii generates 25 times more power from small-scale solar generators than Kentucky and California 400 times more. While these states produce more than 10% of their total electricity from solar power, net metering represents only .05% of Kentucky’s total generating capacity. If anything, California and Hawaii illustrate why net metering should be maintained and strengthened, to grow this emerging industry into a substantial economic sector for Kentucky.
Solar advocates spent several years attempting to negotiate with the electric utilities prior to the passage of the new anti-net metering law. As the CEA correctly noted, we called for the Public Service Commission (PSC) to address this issue, but as an alternative to utility proposals that would have ended net metering outright via statute. While the new law brings the PSC into the process, its provisions undermine Kentucky’s solar industry and severely limit its long-term potential by capping use of net metering at just 1% of a utility’s peak demand.
It may be confusing for the public to read that the self-described “pro-consumer, pro-solar” Consumer Energy Alliance supports Kentucky’s recent anti-net metering law, while dozens of other solar and public-interest groups opposed it. As it happens, CEA’s primary supporters are electric utilities, oil companies and industry groups such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The Courier-Journal has reported on CEA’s practice of lobbying for electric utilities while presenting a façade of being a grassroots consumer group (Courier Journal, Feb. 2, 2018).
As the PSC begins its deliberations on net metering, I encourage commissioners to take the time to fully understand this issue, to demand that utilities present data to support any claims of costs imposed by net metering, and to consider the full scope of benefits (and costs) that net metering provides to all ratepayers and the utilities.
Andy McDonald is the director of the Sustainable Systems Program for Earth Tools Inc. in Frankfort and is vice chair of the Kentucky Solar Energy Society.