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Cost of Solar Energy Discussed at Kentucky Legislative Panel

Solar power means bigger electricity bills for non-solar customers, a group called the Consumer Energy Alliance told a panel of state legislators this week.

CEA’s Brydon Ross told the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy that private credits given to solar customers who participate in programs like net metering--which gives retail credit for excess solar energy fed into the electrical grid—allows those customers to avoid paying costs that most consumers on the grid pay.

Kentucky has had a net metering program since 2004.

The issue, said Ross, is that net metering customers in Kentucky are paid a retail rate that is three times the competitive market rate even though they don’t pay many of the costs that other electricity customers do. Current solar energy policies in at least 15 other states have also proven costly, he said.  

“Our analysis found that private solar credits are shifting costs on to less affluent customers,” said Ross. “Those who can’t afford private solar should not subsidize those receiving private solar credits.”

He was quick, however, to emphasize that his organization supports solar energy.

“Advocating for reform in solar does not mean you are anti-solar,” said Ross. “We think the legislature has a real opportunity here to address an issue before it becomes a real problem.”

Rep. Kelly Flood (D-Lexington) said that the solar energy movement is just starting to have an impact in Kentucky. She questioned Ross on how the reforms CEA is proposing would affect what she called “transitional costs” as more customers move toward solar.

“Incentive programs have been set up to get this whole business up and moving …. But now you’re saying pull back the incentive programs, is that what you’re asking for?,” Flood said.

Competitive rates in the current market is the goal of CEA and its over 250 member companies, which includes the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, LG&E/KU and other CEA associate members in Kentucky, Ross said. 

Rep. Jim Gooch (R-Providence) said solar is not a constant energy source. Other energy sources “base load” the electricity grid “to be there when the intermittent sources are not providing power,” said Gooch, co-chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

“We can flood the grid with power when we don’t need it, but we’re forcing the utility to buy that first,” he said. “There’s a cost involved in ratcheting down base load generation.”

Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-Berea), who also co-chairs the committee, said lawmakers will continue to look at the issue as they consider cost, benefit, and ultimately the value of certain energy sources.

“It’s an important issue. It’s about diversification,” he said.

From the Legislative Research Commission