Anti-solar bills defeated in West Virginia and Indiana

U.S. rooftop solar suppliers on Wednesday celebrated victories against utility-backed legislative proposals perceived as major attacks on net-energy metering in Indiana and West Virginia.

But the solar-friendly billing arrangement – through which utilities compensate residential and commercial customers for unused on-site solar generation fed into the grid – promises to remain a major bone of contention between U.S. solar and utility interests in 2015.

In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch this week cautioned "could jeopardize the future of rooftop solar in the state by rewriting West Virginia’s net-metering policies."

The bill, which attacked the "cross-subsidization" of net metering, suffered from "a number of technical issues," wrote Gov. Tomblin in rejecting the proposal. The governor, however, encouraged legislature to re-examine the bill and to correct certain technical issues.

Earlier this month, West Virginia repealed its renewable energy procurement standard but preserved net metering.

In Indiana, a bill that could have resulted in cuts to net-metering payments and added fees to solar-powered customers who take advantage of net metering, also failed to advance on Wednesday, the last day for bills to do so this legislative session.

"These efforts are far from over," said Bryan Miller, co-chairman of The Alliance for Solar Choice, which counts among its members SolarCity, Sunrun, Solar Universe and other leading U.S. rooftop PV installers and service providers.

Miller, who is also a vice president at Sunrun, called the defeat of the two bills "battle victories in a war that is far from over."

American Electric Power – a backer of both bills and one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S. – is "one of the most aggressive anti-solar utilities in the country," blasted Miller, adding, "They will keep trying political shenanigans and we will continue to fight them.

"We are certain that AEP will continue to try to push the same bad legislation through other bills. They are trying to eliminate solar and competition in any of [the states in which it operates]. AEP will continue to push an anti-solar, anti-competition agenda."

AEP’s subsidiary Indiana Michigan Power, however, earlier this month did praise the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s approval of five solar facilities in Michigan and Indiana, totaling 16 MW. Different than net-metered PV on its customers’ rooftops, the utility will own and earn a regulated rate of return on its investments into these facilities.