Net metering needs to be fixed, and the PSC is right for the job

Kentucky residents should take heart that the legislature has tasked the Public Service Commission (PSC) with resolving the issue of net metering.

The PSC is the proper regulatory agency to make a well-informed decision about how much private solar owners should be compensated for the energy they feed back to the grid. The PSC is charged with ensuring fair, just and reasonable energy rates, and it has the expertise to understand the complex dynamics of rates and markets.

Every Kentucky resident who pays a power bill has a stake in the net metering debate, whether they know it or not.

Under full net metering, which Kentucky has had in place in recent years, private solar owners are credited at the full retail rate—routinely more than twice the market price paid by utilities—when they feed energy back to the grid.

When full net metering happens, private solar owners avoid paying some of the fixed costs of the power lines and power plants they depend upon for energy when the sun’s not shining. When they don’t pay, that means everybody else gets stuck with their tab.

This is especially true for electric cooperatives because we are member-owned, not-for-profit entities. Fairness is a huge issue. If somebody doesn’t pay his or her fair share, other members must cover the cost.

Our owner-member co-ops serve some of the poorest counties in the nation. All too often, some co-op members must make heart-rending choices about paying energy bills, buying food or purchasing medicine. It is simply not right to force these members to pay any portion of someone else’s power bill.

Clearly, the solar industry wishes to see this subsidy continue because it makes private solar economically advantageous. Environmental activists like the fact that intermittent solar is receiving money that should go toward maintaining reliable infrastructure to keep the lights on 24 hours a day, like fossil plants.

The PSC is the proper venue to ensure everyone’s interests are considered and protected, including those of the people at the end of the power lines who pay the bills.

Net metering was never intended to be a permanent fixture. It was intended to help a fledgling technology get off the ground. That’s what it did. Now, solar technology has matured to a point that the incentives of net metering are no longer necessary nor appropriate.

A growing number of cooperative members want energy from renewable sources. As the price of solar panels has decreased in recent years, EKPC and our owner-member co-ops recognized we could meet members’ desire for renewable energy in a cost-effective manner.

By building and maintaining a large solar farm, we offer economies of scale to keep the cost affordable for co-op members while eliminating the hassles of installing and maintaining rooftop solar. We built a solar farm and offered co-op members 25-year licenses, allowing them to receive the true market value of the solar energy on their monthly power bill.

This is just another example of electric co-ops meeting members’ energy needs in an affordable, reliable and fair manner.

Kentucky’s solar industry will endure. Some customers will always prefer to own and operate their own private solar installations. And, as long as they pay their fair share and don’t shift costs to others, we support their efforts.

Anthony “Tony” Campbell is President and CEO of East Kentucky Power Cooperative.