Backlash from solar users and advocates has slowed a proposal in the Kentucky Senate to change the rules on net metering - the way utilities and consumers with rooftop solar trade energy.
The power companies want to pay a lower rate for the excess power they buy from solar households than they charge those households as electric customers.
Jeremy Coxon, vice president of SunWind Power Systems, which has been installing residential solar systems in the greater Louisville area for 12 years, says utility companies are "trying to maintain their monopolies." He stresses without net metering, it would take homeowners a lot longer to pay off their solar investment. "It makes it really difficult to financially justify a solar array when your competition, essentially, gets to set the value of your goods," he states. "That's fundamentally un-American."
Kentucky's electric cooperatives, on the other hand, say the legislation is needed to plan responsibly for future energy needs. The 26 co-ops maintain their non-solar members shouldn't be forced to subsidize people who want to use solar power.
But supporters of net metering say the cost is minuscule. Sustainable energy consultant Andy McDonald says he crunched cost data shared by KU and LG and E, which provide power to nearly a million customers.
"They're claiming that this is shifted onto all of the ratepayers," he states. "But, at most, it's like 5 millionths of a cent per kilowatt hour that's being shifted. I mean, it's an infinitesimal amount of money."
Coxon agrees and says the power companies fail to weigh the positives, such as solar's contribution to the power grid during times of peak demand. He maintains Senate Bill 214 would stifle growth in Kentucky's renewable industry, which already lags far behind many states. "Only the costs are being looked at - none of the benefits - for going solar," he points out. "And not just environmental costs, I'm talking about job creation." Coxon notes his company employs iron and steel workers, electricians, crane operators and truck drivers, and does business with more than 100 vendors.
The solar movement managed to delay a vote on the bill in a Senate committee last week and is hoping it's dead for this legislative session.