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Solar Energy Showdown Heats Up Again In 2019

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File

Solar energy advocates are gearing up for another legislative battle over Senate Bill 100, a measure detractors argue could force solar customers to prop up existing utilities.

Credit AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File

This year's solar bill mirrors some elements of a controversial measure that faltered in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session.

At issue is what's called "net metering," or the process used to reimsurse customers who sell their surplus solar power back to utility companies. Under the current rules, those customers receive credit equal to the power generated. But under the proposed changes, starting January 1, 2020, new solar-generating customers would see their rates subject to approval by the state Public Service Commission. The fear: Those new rates would go down.

Utilities argue the current system is unfair because it falls on companies to absorb the cost for transmission lines and maintenance.

This time out, the bill sponsor, Hazard Republican Brandon Smith, says he worked to bring the two sides closer together.

"What I had hoped to do is to couple it more with utilities, so there's not this adversarial relationship," the senator explains. "We have to have the grid in order to make it work. Solar on your home, if you're standing alone, is great, but if you want to mesh back in the system, we need the utilities."

But fans of solar say SB100 fails to address any of their fundamental concerns, setting up another contentious debate during the remaining days of the 2019 session. 

In an press release, the Kentucky Solar Industries Association warn the bill might mean solar homeowners are credited "as little as 3 cents per kilowatt hour for energy they generate in the morning and then... forced to pay 10 cents in the evening to buy that power back.

”Utilities would be forcing a small number of customers to subsidize their monopolies by compensating customer-generators at rates far below what utilities are paying for their new power plants," association president Matt Partymiller said.

If passed as is, the bill would protect solar customers already taking advantage of the current buy-back rates for 25 years. Solar customers coming online in the next year would also be grandfathered in.

SB100 has recived two readings, but has yet to be heard in committee.

Update: The Senate Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 100 at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 WUKY

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now known as Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and Program Director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.