Solar bill would prompt ‘prolonged litigation,’ consumer group says

Legislation that would eventually phase out net metering for rooftop solar and small generators of solar power is likely to lead to protracted litigation, counsel for a consumer group warns lawmakers.

“Senate Bill 309 has many problems and is likely to produce prolonged litigation,” Citizens Action Coalition counsel Jennifer Washburn concluded in an analysis of the bill sent to Rep. David Ober, chairman of the House Utilities Committee.

Lawmakers said this legislation authored by Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, sparked more constituent opposition than any introduced this session. It initially contained a provision requiring all solar collectors to sell all the power their units generated to the utility and purchase it at retail cost. That language was struck from the bill, but solar advocates continue to assail the legislation.

Ober, R- Albion, said he expects to make significant changes to the measure after his committee heard testimony on the bill last week but did not vote on it.

Consumer groups, homeowners, school officials, church leaders and others testified last month that the bill would undercut the cost savings that make their investment in clean alternative energy possible. Utilities counter that net metering, in which small producers are paid the retail price for surplus power returned to the grid, is a subsidy that doesn’t account for the costs of transmission. Proponents also say the bill would expand opportunities for larger-scale development of solar arrays and other alternative energy supplies.

Washburn’s analysis of the bill questioned claims that current net-metering customers would be grandfathered; whether an amendment to offer users 125 percent of the wholesale cost for power returned to the grid was a guarantee; and potential conflicts between the bill and the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, among others.

The House Utilities Committee will again hear SB 309 at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Statehouse room 156-B.

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