Identical bills would end 'net metering' practice of one kilowatt credit for every kilowatt put back on grid
By Andy Marso
email@example.com via SolidarityEconomy.net
Feb 4, 2014 - A bill to cut the reimbursement rate utility companies pay customers who feed energy back to the grid has gotten the attention of solar advocates.
Mark Moser, of Manhattan, is the inventor and owner of the Konza Solar Tracker, a device that moves solar panels with the sun to make them more efficient. He told legislators that if they end the “net metering” billing practice that reimburses customers one kilowatt hour of electricity for every kilowatt hour they send back to their utility company it will make Kansas one of the worst states for him to do business in.
“I would be left with few options,” Moser said, noting that 43 states have net metering. “As the proverbial solar tracking mustard seed, the Konza Solar Tracker will have to find more fertile ground to grow in elsewhere.”
Bills to end net metering have been introduced in the House and Senate and are supported by utility companies like Westar Energy and Kansas City Power and Light.
Mark Schreiber, Westar’s executive director of government affairs, told legislators that under current law his company “is paying net-metered customers a retail price for a wholesale commodity” and that the 1-to-1 kilowatt credit doesn’t account for infrastructure costs like power plants and power lines.
“When a customer generates some of his or her own power and gets paid the full retail rate of 10 cents, the result is that other customers pay his share of the cost of the entire infrastructure that he continues to use,” Schreiber said. “Rooftop solar systems don’t remove a customer’s reliance on the utility grid of power plants — they just save fuel.”
The Vote Solar Initiative, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helped push for California’s net metering law, said the benefits outweigh the costs in that state by $92.2 million per year.
The organization acknowledged the cost of lessening utility company revenues used for infrastructure, but said customers who produce their own electricity save everyone money by lessening the amount of infrastructure needed within the grid, reducing the amount of electricity lost as it is transmitted over power lines, and preventing pollution.
“Actual costs and benefits are specific to each utility,” a Vote Solar Initiative handout against the Kansas bills states. “However, the size of California’s solar market and its unique tiered rate structure make it a strong test bed for the economics of net metering. A net benefit in California indicates a likely net benefit in other states as well.”
Schreiber said the bills before the Legislature would still compensate consumers "at a premium for their excess electricity" but lower the reimbursement to the "utility's avoided cost" rather than the "full retail price."
Otherwise, Schreiber said his company might be forced to raise rates on customers who don't generate their own electricity, as the number of those who do rises.
"We are already seeing an increase in the number of net-metering applications we receive each month," Schreiber said.
Senate Bill 280 is in the Senate Utilities Committee, while its counterpart, House Bill 2458, is in the House Energy and Environment Committee.
Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, a group of religious leaders against climate change, has made the net-metering bills a top priority, alongside measures to roll back renewable standards that fizzled in the Legislature last year but are expected to reappear.
Meanwhile, the coal industry is weighing in more broadly with a study titled "Energy Cost Impacts on Kansas Families." Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in Washington, D.C., said in a news release that renewable energy is driving up costs.
“As we have witnessed throughout this historically cold winter, a rapid shift to fuel sources that are less reliable, less abundant and more costly than coal for electricity generation has severely undermined American families’ access to affordable heat when they need it most," Duncan said. "For the good of all Kansas families, we must work together to fully take advantage of all the abundant, low-cost resources within our borders."
But Moser told legislators that the cost of solar energy is dropping due to devices like his, while the costs of burning fossil fuels like coal go beyond power generation and include health and environmental damage.
"The rest of the planet is going solar now," Moser said. "When the coal dust finally settles and we are done with the age of fossil fuels your names will be attached to this monumental transition that our global civilization must now make."
Andy Marso can be reached at Capital: (785) 233-7470; Office: (785) 295-5619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Andy on Twitter @andymarso.