Chairman Adds Members To Panel Considering Controversial Solar Bill

Feb 4, 2018

Credit Erica Peterson

Three lawmakers have been added to a committee that has been considering a controversial bill that would scale back how much households with solar panels are reimbursed for producing excess energy for the electrical grid.

The move might help extend the life of the legislation, which has had trouble passing out of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

Tom Fitzgerald, an environmental activist and attorney with the Kentucky Resources Council, called the move “highly unusual.”

“I think the more the merrier, but the motivation as I understand was in fact to get a troubled bill out of committee,” Fitzgerald said. “And it is a bill that does not deserve or need to be passed out of committee.”

House Bill 227 would reduce the value of credits received by households and businesses that participate in Kentucky’s “net metering” program, which rewards solar generators for producing extra energy that is pumped back out onto the grid to be used by other customers.

Those credits are equal to the retail price of power and can be applied to future electricity bills, but the legislation would devalue the credits by about two-thirds to the wholesale price of power.

The bill has twice been slated for a vote out of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, but hasn’t advanced yet — possibly signaling that the bill hasn’t had enough votes to pass.

Committee chair Republican Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence did not respond to a request for comment on the addition of three members to the committee, though Courier Journal reported that he added the members to have more representation from western Kentucky lawmakers.

The new members include two Republicans and one Democrat — GOP Reps. Robby Mills of Henderson and Myron Dossett of Pembroke, and Democratic Rep. Rick Nelson of Middlesboro.

Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said new members were added because absences had prevented the committee from having enough votes to legally vote on bills.

“He had had a couple of meetings where he was having a hard time getting a quorum and keeping a quorum and so apparently because of scheduling conflicts he had just requested a couple members,” Osborne said.

Electric utilities argue that the current net metering scheme forces them to pay solar households too much for generating excess energy, saying that crediting with the retail rate of power doesn’t account for expenses like infrastructure and personnel.

There are about 1,000 net metering households in Kentucky.

Last year lawmakers considered a similar bill that would have changed the reimbursement rates for future customers. It was discussed in committee, but never voted on.