Editorials

House should reject Gooch’s dirty trick to subvert rooftop solar

Cooperative Solar Farm One, a 60-acre solar energy farm located at the East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester. The farm is made up of 32,300 panels, each expected to produce as much as 50 kilowatt hours of energy monthly.
Cooperative Solar Farm One, a 60-acre solar energy farm located at the East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester. The farm is made up of 32,300 panels, each expected to produce as much as 50 kilowatt hours of energy monthly. aslitz@herald-leader.com

What do you do when you can’t move a bill on its merits? Stack the committee.

House leaders should be ashamed for taking the unusual step of enlarging a standing committee mid-session to grease the way for a bill that would devastate Kentucky’s rooftop solar industry.

The announcement that three members would be added to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee was made Friday morning, after the committee twice in recent days failed to vote on House Bill 227. The bill would help establish a monopoly on generating solar power for utilities which are installing solar arrays.

The bill’s sponsor and the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, didn’t hold a vote on HB 227, even though it was on the agenda, because he knew it lacked the votes to pass.

Mind you, this has never been a committee of tree-huggers. But apparently not even devoted friends of coal could bring themselves to snuff out a small but growing industry and label Kentucky as an energy retrograde just to help investor-owned utilities. So Gooch called for backup.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Gooch asked for more lawmakers on the 19-member committee because he was having a hard time getting a quorum, reported Courier Journal. Gooch said he asked for the additions because “we didn’t have very many members from West Kentucky.”

The Committee on Committees, made up of House leaders, added two Republicans from Western Kentucky, Robby Mills of Henderson and Myron Dossett of Pembroke, and a Democrat, Rick Nelson, from Middlesboro in Southeastern Kentucky.

Gooch and his enablers in House leadership are not the only dirty tricksters in this questionable tableau.

HB 227 is pushed by an industry front group that is green-washing its motives. Louisville resident Claire Williams got a call from the group, innocuously named the Consumer Energy Alliance, on Monday. Williams, whose home is powered by rooftop solar, told Courier Journal’s James Bruggers that the messaging was so misleading it made her wonder “if there was another bill that I didn’t know about.”

Gooch and the utilities argue, not persuasively, that other electricity consumers are subsidizing the few rooftop solar installations in Kentucky. HB 227 would reduce by two-thirds the credit that residential solar owners can earn for excess power they supply a utility. This change in the net metering law would discourage future investments in rooftop solar by prolonging the wait for them to begin paying for themselves.

In fact, rooftop solar is a great fit for Kentucky, where peak demand for electricity occurs on summer afternoons when solar generation also peaks. The flow of rooftop solar during peak demand helps the power system.

The way we have organized and pay for generating and moving electricity is increasingly out of sync with consumer demands. In the past electric utilities have earned a return for their investors largely by building power plants, a model that’s unsustainable. We still need big base-load power plants, but generation also will become more dispersed.

Kentucky should be talking about how to capitalize on new technology to guarantee a reliable future power supply. But stooping to an underhanded tactic, as Gooch has done, to subvert a small but promising industry is no way to advance that discussion. The Republicans who control the House and welcomed Gooch, formerly a Democrat into their fold in 2015, should be embarrassed and only too glad to atone by killing HB 227.

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