American Renewable Energy and Power

Crews work on a solar farm near Minster, Ohio.

Advocates: Language in Ohio bill would ‘basically shut down’ solar

A bill to extend the “freeze” of Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards also contains provisions that would undermine solar growth in the state, advocates say.

SB 320, which was introduced last month, “is unprecedented as far as what it’s proposing,” said Amy Heart, senior manager of public policy for Sunrun, a residential solar installer.

Specifically, the bill would undermine net metering and allow utilities to enter the rooftop solar business – essentially competing with private companies that must operate under a different set of rules.

The bill, Heart says, would “basically shut down the competitive solar market so it would freeze the industry in its tracks and give the utilities a blank slate to do what they want without oversight by the (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio).”

The bill would also redefine “renewable” energy to include power generated by nuclear plants and even some fossil fuel technologies.

Sen. Bill Seitz, who introduced the bill, could not be reached for comment.

‘It’s devastating’

There is almost no chance of the bill passing before the Ohio Legislature adjourns in late May. However, it is almost certain to be taken up during the legislature’s lame duck session, which will begin in November.

While solar installers now working in Ohio must comply with a raft of commission regulations, it appears that the bill would invite utilities to begin selling solar systems without having to comply with state rules.

Heart said the 100-page bill’s sprawling, obscure language required the help of attorneys and regulatory experts to clarify  “what its impact would be on the industry. And it’s devastating.”

Trish Demeter, managing director of energy programs for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the bill “would allow a utility to own a behind-the-meter project. If I’m a homeowner and want to do rooftop solar, the distribution utility that would have a vested interest in not seeing solar move forward would be the owner of that project. It seems like an anti-competitive clause.”

The bill also would give utilities “a tremendous amount of power” in negotiating contracts with solar customers, Demeter said. The utility would have the upper hand in determining, for example, how much excess power it would purchase and at what price, and the terms under which it would connect with a customer’s solar panels.

“As a customer, how do I know what to negotiate in my contract if the PUC has no minimum standards?” Demeter said. “I just have to trust what that utility tells me? Maybe what they’re telling me is an advantage to them and a disadvantage to me.”

Demeter said the bill also would redefine “renewable” to include nuclear power and various “combustion-based technologies.”

“It blows up what ‘renewable’ means to make it meaningless,” she said. “And the same thing with energy efficiency. It makes it that much easier for utilities to meet their annual targets.”

Net metering changes

The bill also would change net metering rules in a way that would make distributed generation much less attractive. Utilities now calculate energy use and production by net metering customers each month. They can carry over excess power as credits indefinitely.

SB 320 would require an accounting every hour. Excess power would revert to the utility at the end of every hour.

That change in policy, Heart said, “would devalue the solar power being generated. This doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. It doesn’t fairly account for the solar production on a home.”

As she sees it, the pieces of the bill that would roll back net metering and allow utilities to unfairly compete on rooftop solar dimensions of the bill are “a huge distraction from the conversation Ohio wants to have” on its energy future.

10 thoughts on “Advocates: Language in Ohio bill would ‘basically shut down’ solar

  1. News Flash Ohio legislature and governor are in the big money utilities pocket. My opinion.

  2. In it’s present form, net metering hurts non solar customers as they have to pay for the grid upkeep not paid for by the solar guys. This is about half the cost of running a utility and the rooftopers do not pay for it at all. They are acting like the only cost to a utility is the fuel. Utilities have tremendous investment and numerous employees that must be paid. Many states are setting up to do away with net metering or changing it to stop favoring the energy storage now provided for free by the utilities and paid for by their neighbors.

    • This statement is not correct. Right now, the utilities have various riders in their tariffs which are, for all practical purposes, non-by passable charges to solar customers and other users of alternative electrical power.

  3. I think that it would be fine to charge a “grid fee” every month to someone who connects to the grid and then do net metering per kwh. I suspect that a lot of this would be more competitive if the grid and the power generators were separate companies.

    What would be wrong with having the root-top solar sell to the distribution company at the highest wholesale price that the company had to pay for power at a given hour (the power exchanges bid power constantly)? That way, the grid would get power to sell at a profit and the customer would get credits that they could use when their solar isn’t generating. This would be basically neutral to the grid companies. However, the power generating companies would like to stifle competition and when the generation and distribution are the same company, and the legislatures are in their pocket…

    • In CA, the power generation and power distribution are accounted for separately. I have had it where the distribution was more expensive than the generation.

  4. The thought that net metering increases the cost for non-solar customers is nonsense. In fact, it makes electricity cheaper for everyone as you have more capacity and it allows utilities to back off peaker plant usage, the most expensive type of electricity produced.

    No fossil fuel company can survive when the fuel cost for a competitor is zero. Once you have the solar panels running, the fuel is free, in unlimited amounts forever. This bill was written by coal and natural gas suppliers and introduced by their owned and operated politicians. Utilities want to get in on the lucrative solar market and they are using this bill to monopolize the solar marketplace which radically increases the cost of solar power to the consumer.

    I live off grid – entirely on solar – so I appreciate the convenience of NEVER seeing an electric bill. 4 deep cycle batteries handle my needs at night and why others don’t do what I do is beyond me.

    Our political system is so inherently corrupt, that the people always get shafted. Solar needs to be encouraged and new solar needs to be part of all new construction. We need a national energy policy.

  5. Mike Hillsboro I am not sure I understand the bill at all and since I am not a solar customer i would like to know what this bill will do or undo. Can you explain it to me? You sound like a wise man with opinions. Thanks

  6. Here’s from Wikipedia-
    “Seitz is currently on the Board of Directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit partnership of conservative legislators and private sector lobbyists that craft model legislation for those legislators to sponsor.”

    I assumed this video was complete and utter rubbish until I watched the whole thing. If the link doesn’t succeed, the gist is that ALEC crafts legislation where the legislators only have to fill in their state!! It’s a “bill-mill”.

  7. Why would power companies simply allow other companies to form that they (the power company) would have to pay for power mandated by government(s). Power companies should be expected to be in that business since they currently ARE in that business. Duh.