In defeat for ALEC, Kansas lawmakers pass net metering plan

Kansas lawmakers on Thursday passed a compromise plan that would preserve net metering in the state, handing another defeat to a conservative group seeking to repeal the state’s renewable energy laws.

As originally introduced, the bill effectively would have put an end to the practice of giving customers credit, or rolling back their meters, to reflect electricity they generate on their property and feed into the local utility’s grid. However, renewable energy activists and the state’s largest utility forged a compromise that would preserve the policy, although in a diminished form.

The state’s House of Representative approved the latest version in a 112-12 vote on Thursday. It now must be signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

In March, the House also rejected a bill that would have repealed the state’s renewable energy standard.

Both pieces of legislation were backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a collection of state legislators who meet with representatives from major industries including utilities, and regularly introduces legislation designed to advance the industries’ interests.

The defeat “will discourage ALEC from even trying in other states,” said Bryan Miller, president of The Alliance for Solar Choices.

Although only 201 utility customers in Kansas are allowed to roll back their meter, ALEC chose to target the state.

“It was an ideological war by ALEC,” Miller said. “ALEC wanted to make Kansas a place to take its special-interest message, and then take it nationally to other states.”

The net metering bill has a couple of important provisions. It reduced the size of solar installations that can qualify for net metering. Currently, residential installations can be as large as 25 kilowatts and qualify for net metering. The bill reduces that to 15 kilowatts. The threshold for commercial projects was sliced from 200 to 100 kilowatts. Churches and schools are allowed a maximum size of 150 kilowatts.

Although net meterers now can earn the full retail price for excess power at the end of each month, the bill reduces that to 100 percent of the utility’s avoided costs. It’s a significant reduction in the rate, but is unlikely to make much of an impact because only a small proportion of solar customers in Kansas actually have excess power at the end of each month.

Also, the bill stipulates that, if a utility wishes to change the rate structure for its net metering customers, it can only do so within the context of a rate case. That effectively prohibits the utility from singling out net meterers for higher rates, and requires a transparent process where all interested parties can participate.

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