Friday, April 24, 2015

Conspiracy to upend Net Metering comes to MN House Energy Omnibus Bill

The National Conspiracy against net metering, as uncovered by the Washington post in their March 7th article "Utilities Wage Campaign against Rooftop Solar", has become a key point of controversy in the Minnesota State House of Representatives Energy Omnibus Bill.

For Solar Homeowners, net metering is the ability to sell surplus solar power back to the utility through the grid possibly resulting in a check from the utility companies rather than a bill. 

     The usual divide and conquer technique fossil fuel industry and utility company trade groups like the Edison Electric Institute use is to try to pit low-income communities of color against advocates for certain solar power options like net metering. They invoke an inverted reality where the individual solar energy customer is the greedy villain.

They say households that net-meter their own solar-based electricity do not pay into the fixed costs of the grid and thereby  unfairly and inaccurately accuse  them of forcing a raise in electricity costs for non-solar households, and chiefly those struggling to pay their energy bills. The author of the MN State House Energy Omnibus Bill, Pat Garofalo, told the Star Tribune about net metering “we are defunding maintenance of the electric grid to pay for (distributed generation) incentives.” In the April 22nd session on the energy omnibus bill, Pat Garofalo clearly stated that someone who uses the grid should pay for it rather than there being any freeloaders.

If a solar homeowner or a subscriber is not being reimbursed for excess power they generate, then how is that not theft plain and simple as seen in bill’s language like “Any Kilowatt Hour Credits carried forward by the customer cancel at the end of the calendar year with no additional compensation?” 
It is like imposing a punitive fee on Pat Garofalo for buying a new $70,000 a jet black Tesla Model S for not contributing to the gas tax revenue that goes to pay for the road and bridge infrastructure.

What information could opponents of net metering feast upon? There was a Louisiana Study that concluded solar roofs result a cost shift of $2 Million for energy users who do not own solar panels, but is has been debunked as paid off by the fossil fuel interests. Meanwhile recent reports commissioned by regulators in MississippiNevada, and Maine, as well as the state consumer advocate in Vermont, have confirmed whatever costs distributed solar causes are outweighed by the benefits such as reducing the load on the utility during the hot sunny summer months when air conditioners are running on high.

When the House Energy Omnibus bill was being heard, Representative Melissa Hortman brought up an amendment that she said would actually bring in some analysis, transparency and accounting onto the supposed cost shifting and instability net metering imposes. But the State House still voted it down and the retort from the other side was to “check in with the ratepayers and the electric co-ops.”

The net metering language in the bill was described by its supporters as that the fees for what people would be charged for net metering would be made by the co-op utilities and Muni’s themselves rather than being set from a top down-imposed fixed rate. They framed net metering issue as forcing Muni utilities and co-ops to buy the distributed generation even if they don’t want it for whatever reason. I heard a representative say that the gives the co-ops and the munis the ability to set a rate that “encourages renewables” but does not put it on the backs of those who do not want it. So overall they and take a weakening net metering as an exhibit for being pro-local control.

  Supporters of protecting the current net metering standards spoke toward the principle of becoming energy independent by diversifying our energy supply. Representative Melissa Hortman explained how net metering has been around since the 1980’s and was created in response to natural gas spikes in the 1970’s that closed schools because there was not enough energy to keep them warm. For whatever great burden distributed generation plus net metering supposedly imposes onto the system, it’s a much bigger problem when we are over-dependent on just one monoculture of energy. Hooking small systems of other energy sources into the larger grid makes it more secure if centralized power gets shut down. In addition localizing more power generation means less energy line losses.

During the hearing, Representative Raymond Dehn said there is nothing in this bill that makes the grid less susceptible to terrorist strikes mainly because the bill is so inconsiderate of our space to create decentralized energy freedom. Distributed generation creates a more secure grid and therefore those against net metering are against a diversified grid and therefore its security.

Garofalo Stated that he had set $45 million for distributed generation in the bill. That alone would redeem the omnibus bill somewhat. But earlier toward in the hearing I recall it was Garofalo who stated “There is nothing environmentally beneficial about distributed generation, but it is more expensive.”
Weakening of net metering means undermining our freedom to generate our own energy and to sell and to choose diversified sources of energy.

Giving energy monopolies the leverage to stifle small producer’s ability to go renewable is not what Minnesota voters and constituents across the political spectrum want. 76% of voters polled in Minnesota Power’s service territory supported the 10% solar by 2030 goal in 2013. It is what legislators who wined and dined him at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) conferences are bribed into to bringing up.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) is a closed-door, secretive membership group for conservative corporatist state lawmakers, that has drafted cookie-cutter model legislation for dozens of state legislatures attacking net metering and clean energy mandates.
The ALEC chair for the Minnesota State House is none other than the author of the omnibus energy bill himself!

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