Bill to regulate solar power put on hold by sponsor

By Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

A committee chairman might have pulled the plug on his own bill Wednesday when he skipped over the measure that would alter an incentive for Kentucky's solar industry.

 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A committee chairman might have pulled the plug on his own bill Wednesday when he skipped over the measure that would alter an incentive for Kentucky's solar industry.

Republican Sen. Jared Carpenter, who received considerable pushback from solar advocates, said he worked on changes to the bill but was uncomfortable with the language.

Afterward, the Berea Republican stopped short of declaring the measure dead, but said "it's going to be hard for it to go anywhere" with time winding down. Kentucky lawmakers passed the two-thirds mark of this year's legislative session on Tuesday.

Carpenter is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and he announced during a committee hearing that he was skipping over his measure.

The bill has been backed by the state's traditional utilities.

Solar advocates have contended the bill would stymie the fledgling solar industry.

Carpenter said he had no intention of hurting any industry or putting people out of work. He said he worked into the night Tuesday on changes but decided not to offer the new language.

"I didn't think it was fair to the members of the committee or anybody that's interested in this issue to push something through on short notice," he said. "It's too big of an issue for that."

Solar advocates praised Carpenter for his willingness to listen to their concerns.

"The heart of our concern was that they were introducing a lot of regulations," said Matt Partymiller, chairman of the Kentucky Solar Industries Association. "The result would have been regulating the solar industry out of work."

At issue is a system, called net-metering, that allows solar users to feed their excess power into their local utility's grid and receive a one-for-one credit toward power they buy.

Utilities say giving credit at the retail rate doesn't defray their costs in the power grid.

"We believe there is a need for updating the 15-year-old laws regarding net-metering," the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives said in a statement. "Solar users are currently getting special privileges, selling their excess energy at two times the cost of other energy."

But the association said it supported Carpenter's decision to delay the bill.

The measure would have abolished the current net-metering system, though existing customers would have been grandfathered in. It called for new net-metering customers to be charged and credited at different rates. Solar advocates said that would have allowed Kentucky's utilities to submit separate rate cases to state regulators.

"We don't want our customers subject to the uncertainty that comes with a revolving door of solar rates," Partymiller said.

According to The Solar Foundation, the solar industry employs more than 1,000 people in Kentucky — mostly in the installation and manufacturing of solar panels and equipment.

The involvement by traditional utilities was not an attempt to kill the state's solar sector, said Joe Arnold, a spokesman for the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. The law is outdated, he said, and "not ready for the reality of the future of energy in Kentucky."

"We believe in solar," Arnold said. "We think it's a part of our energy future. We just want it to be ... valued appropriately."

Kentucky currently limits the amount of power a utility must buy from a customer-generator to 30 kilowatts per month. The bill would raise that limit to 1,000 kilowatts on a single meter.

If the bill dies this year, Carpenter said the issues could be reviewed by lawmakers during the interim heading into the 2018 General Assembly.

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