U.S. Senators move to preserve solar net metering through energy bill amendment

03. February 2016 | Financial & Legal Affairs, Markets & Trends, Top News | By:  Christian Roselund

The bill would require state regulators to account for the benefits of distributed solar before changing net metering valuations, and would prevent the sort of retroactive changes that Nevada has imposed.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (right) is a strong supporter of solar both at the distributed and utility scales.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) have filed an amendment to a wide-ranging energy bill to prevent state regulators from unduly altering state net metering policies.

The amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012) would add new language to PURPA, a landmark 1978 energy law, to require that state regulators include the benefits of distributed solar in any change to net metering valuations. The Reid-King amendment would further prohibit regulators from retroactively changing net metering arrangements for existing customers.

This bill appears to specifically represent a response to the severe and retroactive changes to net metering implemented in Harry Reid's home state.

“This amendment is good for consumers in Nevada and across the country,” said U.S. Senator Harry Reid in a speech on the floor of the Senate this morning. “It will safeguard people who want to generate their own clean energy from retroactive rule changes that could devastate their finances.”

The amendment is supported by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “The King-Reid amendment would protect hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already invested in solar systems for their homes and businesses by preserving their rights to sell power back to the electric grid," says SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch.

"Net metering is a smart, popular policy that helps stabilize the grid and saves all consumers money."

While Senator King is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Reid is the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, the amendment still faces an uphill battle.

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) says that a rival amendment introduced by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) would instead weaken protections for solar consumers. The organization alleges that this amendment represents the interests of utility Arizona Public Service and the Edison Electric Institute.

“The utility trade lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, wants to eliminate all forms of energy competition, and Senator Flake is doing their bidding,” says TASC Spokesperson Evan Dube, who also serves as director of public policy for Sunrun. “Fortunately, consumers have powerful advocates in Senators King and Reid.”

These two amendments are among more than 200 that have been filed, and advocates expect that the Reid-King amendment will be voted on by the end of the week.

Despite being the first comprehensive energy legislation in 11 years, the Energy Policy Modernization Act has few references to solar PV or wind. Instead the law streamlines hydroelectric approval and permitting, which reflects the focus of Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The bill also contains numerous measures relating to energy efficiency and support for the installations of microgrids in rural areas. Additionally, there is a substantial section dedicated to upgrades and improvements to the nation’s electric grid.

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