West Virginia solar net metering safe - for now

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Weeks after signing off the repeal of the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, the governor of West Virginia has vetoed another bill that could have spelled the end off rooftop solar in the state, observers say.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin cited a number technical issues as ground for rejecting the bill yesterday, which industry body the Solar Energy industries Association (SEIA) claimed could have killed rooftop solar in the state.

The bill, 2201, would have required the state’s Public Service Commission to set new rules for solar net metering in the state prohibiting “cross-subsidization” – defined in the bill as “the practice of charging costs directly incurred by the electric utility in accommodating a net metering system to electric retail customers to electric retails customers who are not customer generators”.

Opponents of the bill claimed it could have opened the door to utilities in the state charging existing and future net metering customers to cover the costs of maintaining the grid, something utilities denied was the case.

Welcoming the bill’s rejection, Resch said: “It’s neither logical nor fair to rewrite ratemaking rules for one set of customers or one policy initiative, while ignoring similar effects of other rates and policies.

“SEIA doesn’t object to investigating the costs and benefits of net energy metering, but we do object to the assumption that any potential cost shift from a net metering customer to other customers is unjustified. Retail utility rates often include cost shifts that functionally serve as inter-class and intra-class cross-subsidies. These cost shifts are justified on a variety of rationales, both practical and policy-driven. Unfortunately, this legislation would have had the practical effect of stymying – if not killing – the growth of rooftop solar in West Virginia.”

But while the bill was vetoed on this occasion by Tomblin, he left the door open to its backers having another try. “I encourage the Legislature to re-examine this piece of legislation and correct the technical issues outlined in my veto message. I look forward to reviewing its changes in final form,” he said.

A further attempt, if successful, would leave West Virginia’s renewable energy policies in tatters. The retention of a net metering policy when the repeal of West Virginia’s 25% RPS was enacted was seen as a victory for clean energy campaigners, but that too now seems to be under threat.

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