Solar bill clears Kentucky Senate, awaits House input

Posted at 10:23 AM, Feb 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-14 10:23:01-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation backed by power companies picked up momentum over objections from solar power interests on Wednesday, as the Kentucky Senate passed the bill that would change how utilities provide credits to customers with rooftop solar panels.

The Senate voted 23-12 to approve the measure, a few hours after it cleared a committee.

The bill now goes to the House, where members took immediate steps to put it on a fast track. A House panel was scheduled to review the measure at a meeting on Thursday.

The proposal delves into the system — known as net-metering — in which utilities compensate customers with excess power from their solar panels. The bill would let regulators with the Kentucky Public Service Commission set the value to be credited to solar customers.

RELATED: City Council pledges to operate on 100 percent renewable energy by 2035

"We have a unique opportunity to modernize solar in Kentucky," said Sen. Brandon Smith, the bill's lead sponsor. "To give it something that's dependable and moves it forward in a way that takes care of the utilities, the customer and solar. And that's not easy to achieve."

Opponents framed it differently, saying the result would be to give utilities a monopoly over solar power at the expense of small solar companies looking to gain a foothold in Kentucky.

"The real purpose of this bill, as it's always been, is to help utilities ensure their monopoly over our industry," Matt Partymiller, president of the Kentucky Solar Industries Association, said when the bill was reviewed by a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Solar interests say the measure would result in power companies paying substantially less for the energy generated from solar customers. Utility companies argue the current system results in paying more to solar customers than it costs them to generate their own energy.

People with solar panels on their homes generate their own electricity. When they don't have enough power, they buy it from the utility company. When they have too much power, the utility company buys it from them. The law now requires utility companies to buy the power at the same rate they sold it. People with solar panels on their home then get a credit on their power bill, paying less than customers who don't have solar panels.

The bill would change the process by letting the PSC decide how much power companies should compensate those customers with solar panels.

Smith, R-Hazard, disputed claims from the bill's critics that state regulators would be inclined to side with utilities. Smith said it's a "calculated risk" for utilities to "let their chips fall where they may and let the Public Service Commission do it."

A similar measure narrowly passed the Kentucky House last year. That proposal stalled in the Senate during the final days of the session.

The Kentucky Solar Industries Association on Wednesday urged the House to take a more deliberate review that includes discussions with utility interests to deal with what it sees as the bill's flaws.

"We have been trying to work on a compromise since last session, but there has been no interest in a balanced bill that benefits consumers rather than monopolies," the group said in a statement.