Controversial Solar Bill Running Out Of Daylight This Session

Mar 1, 2017

A bill solar energy advocates worry could dampen enthusiasm for the alternative power source and discourage future adopters in Kentucky is likely dead for the 2017 legislative session.

The sun appears to be setting on Senate Bill 214 - at least this year. The bill allowing utilities to buy back surplus energy produced by solar customers at different rates attracted more attention than sponsor, Sen. Jared Carpenter, anticipated. The Berea Republican told reporters he was "shocked by the number of folks that got engaged in the process."

"I think there's been a phenomenal pushback. I think this bill caught the proposer and the committee unawares in terms of what they were going to see from the public," says Steve Ricketts, owner of Lexington-based Solar Energy Solutions.

Ricketts applauds the decision to press pause on the measure, which he and others have warned could slow or even kill the still-growing industry. They argue solar provides a net benefit to the electric grid, from scaling back demand to cutting air pollution, and utilities ought to weigh those factors when reimbursing solar customers. But right now, Ricketts and company mostly want more time.

"Most other states that have had this debate have spent years studying what is the value of solar," he says. "We were given four months with no study."

Utilities and co-ops, on the other hand, argue keeping the current retail rate in place saddles them with extra fixed costs.

"If you're buying your energy for one dollar, let's say, and you're selling it for one dollar, that doesn't allow you to service and maintain the lines and grid for every other rate payer that doesn't have solar," Carpenter explains.

Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives spokesman Joe Arnold agrees, adding, "It's not a dispute against solar. It's a dispute against the way the law was written 15 years ago in an antiquated fashion. Now it's a chance for us to reform that law to do it right for the future."

Arnold laments the spread of "misinformation" about the bill, which he says omits another provision boosting the size of allowable solar installations from 30 kilowatts to 1,000 kilowatts. 

"It's frustrating that the solar industry can't take yes for an answer," Arnold says.

Both sides appear amenable, however, to shelving the bill if it results in further discussion and compromise.

"I'm just not comfortable with the language that we had together last night and I want to make sure that I protect both sides of the industry and all the rate-payers in Kentucky," Carpenter says. "That's what this bill really comes down to. And so with a limited amount of time we have it's going to be hard for it to go anywhere, but I'm still going to continue working on the issue and it may be something we can address during the interim."