A bill up under consideration in a House committee would deal a blow to the state’s solar energy industry – that’s according to solar advocates who are leading the charge against the measure.
Homeowners who install solar panels and generate more than enough energy to power their homes can currently sell that energy back to utility companies at the retail rate. That means for every dollar’s worth of excess energy they produce, utility providers give them a dollar in return.
Republican Rep. Jim Gooch argues that’s not a fair arrangement because utility companies have other fixed costs to worry about.
"They're also charging you the cost for maintaining the grid, whether it be lines, poles, their workers, debt service on whatever their generators are," he told the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. "All those types of things go in to the cost that they actually charge you when they sell that electricity."
So his measure, House Bill 227, would roll back those reimbursements to the wholesale rate – or about 30 cents on the dollar, according to Jamie Clark, who sits on the Kentucky Solar Energy Society board. He sees another agenda at work.
"The utilities are trying to fight and claw for their way of life," Clark says.
He, and other solar supporters, argue HB227 is all about driving out competitors.
"Imagine if you will if Time Warner Cable could go back 30 years and make it illegal to put a satellite dish on your roof. What do you think that would do to their business model? Clark asks. "That's what the utilities are trying to do to the solar industry in Kentucky."
In fact, the makeup of the committee has itself become a topic of controversy – with the recent addition of three new lawmakers, two Republicans and a coal-country Democrat, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Gooch has denied accusations of vote packing.