Thinking of getting solar for your home? Want to sell the excess solar power to your local utility? Then you’d better pay attention to SB214, or you might find yourself shelling out more than you save – or even breaking the law.

This bill, sponsored by Senator Jared Carpenter, would put significant limits on the use of net-metered solar power in Kentucky. (Net metering is when you get charged for the net amount of energy you use: what you take from the grid minus what you give back.) It is not surprising that Senator Carpenter is the one sponsoring this bill, since in his last election 17% of his campaign donations came from energy PACs and executives. It is also not surprising that ALEC and the Koch Brothers are behind many bills like this one.

Knowing that the utility companies (no friends of solar), the Koch brothers, and ALEC are in favor of bills like this should make you want to learn more, just as self-protection. For our Kentucky let’s-kill-solar bill, here are the specifics:

  • Raises the cap on consumer net-metered systems from 30kw to 1,000kw. (This is a GOOD thing—one of the few good points in the bill—as our previous cap was 30kw.)
  • Limits the total amount of net-metered capacity to 1% of the utility’s peak capacity overall. After that, the utility may decide to not let any other homes participate in net-metering. So, if you are too late to put solar power on your house, too bad for you.
  • Ensures the same rates for net-metering homes as non-net-metering homes only through July of this year. After that? Whatever rates the traffic will bear. Meant to make you think twice about installing solar power panels.
  • GET THIS: Says that the utility may charge you for the cost of maintaining the grid at whatever rate they choose, with no comparison to what they charge homes around you that aren’t using solar. (“Nice little solar array you’ve got there. Too bad we have to charge you three times as much for your electricity as your neighbor without solar.”) This is, in our opinion, one of the worst provisions of the bill.
  • Says that the customer applying for net-metering must use the electricity they produce for only their own consumption. This sounds reasonable, until you realize that this means that apartment building owners, for example, cannot install solar and share the credits with their tenants. You can’t share your generated electricity with your neighbor, either.
    It also prevents local communities from installing solar arrays and sharing the generated electricity, such as some East Kentucky communities could do on top of their strip-mined mountains.
  • Says that if the utility or the utility commission later changes the type of equipment needed to do net metering, YOU will have to pay all the costs.
  • Says that all the metering must be done through one meter, and one meter only, on a customer’s premises. This prevents farmers from having electrical service at a barn and at a home, and using the power generated by the barn solar power array to offset the home’s usage.

Look, electrical utilities have a hard dilemma facing them. Currently, the cost of maintaining the grid and the cost of producing electricity are combined into one rate. So, if an entire community got excited on solar and produced more than they consumed, the utility would still be stuck with the costs of maintaining the poles and lines and generators and monitors, so that electricity would be available when the solar wasn’t doing enough. This problem needs to be addressed, because we need a healthy grid as well as more solar.

But instead of actually addressing the root problem, this bill just tries to get rid of solar by making it difficult, confusing, and ultimately more expensive than non-solar. This is a bad bill, meant to protect big utilities at the expense of homeowners, communities, and the our environment. It should be rejected, and a multi-interest group put together to address both the need for more renewables AND the need for a well-maintained power grid.

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Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016. He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.

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