Anti-solar bill hurts Kentucky’s energy future. It’s also a case of dirty politics.
The anti-solar energy bill that was narrowly passed by the House and is awaiting action in the Senate illustrates two weaknesses in Kentucky’s civic character: We try to cling to the past, and we tolerate dirty politics.
House Bill 227 was written by electric utilities to protect their monopolies by discouraging Kentuckians from installing solar panels on their homes.
Under current law, homeowners with solar panels get full credit for excess power they feed into the utility grid on sunny days for when they need to draw it out at night or on cloudy days. This bill would significantly cut that credit, while making them pay full price for power they draw out.
Utilities claim the current system isn’t fair, because solar homeowners are using their grid like a battery without paying for its maintenance. The utility industry’s fake “grassroots” group, the Consumer Energy Alliance, has promoted the bill by falsely claiming that solar homeowners are shifting costs to other customers.
These arguments ignore the monthly service fee solar customers, like all customers, pay to help maintain the grid. They also ignore the environmental benefits of solar, and the fact that utilities are getting extra power into their grid on hot summer days when demand and their own generating costs are at peak.
Solar panel installers — mostly small businesses scattered around the state — say drastically cutting the so-called net metering rate would all but put them out of business, costing Kentucky hundreds of jobs. Fewer homeowners will install solar panels if low credit rates make it harder for them to recoup their investment.
What this bill is really about is protecting the utilities’ traditional business model and protecting their monopolies on generating electricity. It’s as if carriage makers a century ago had tried to ban automobiles from the road, claiming they were unfair to horses.
Utilities are right to be worried. But what they should be worried about is battery technology. Rather than trying to snuff out independent solar producers, they should be partnering with them so they won’t abandon the grid when battery technology makes it possible.