Solar community fights monopoly utilities’ end run around net metering rules

West Virginia’s monopoly utilities are at it again, but West Virginia’s community of solar supporters are fighting back. In October, utilities asked the Public Service Commission (PSC) to drastically cut the amount solar owners are credited for the electricity they generate. If the utilities get their way, solar owners will receive only a third of what they are currently paid. This is unfair to current solar owners. Furthermore, the move would block more West Virginians from benefiting from solar in the future.

The utilities’ proposal comes as the Public Service Commission is considering minor changes to the state’s net metering regulation, specifically regarding if the net-metered customer or utility should pay for the installation of a new meter. The utilities have taken this opportunity to argue for gutting our net metering rules, making it far more expensive for West Virginians to go solar.

This latest fight over net metering stems from a monumental victory for West Virginia’s community of solar supporters back in 2015. At that time, the legislature was considering a bill that would have ended net metering in the state. In response, the solar community generated more than 1,000 public comments on the issue in just two weeks.

This convinced the legislature to convene a task force to determine what impact, if any, solar customers have on other ratepayers. A report was issued by a diverse group of stakeholders, including the PSC’s own staff. It concluded that no action should be taken with respect to net metering, thus protecting solar owners’ ability to receive fair credit for the electricity they produce. This year, the PSC finally issued a draft order to update the state’s net metering laws based on the task force’s recommendations. Though the PSC’s draft order makes only minor changes to the status quo, the utilities reacted by asking the PSC to gut net metering in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s solar community has responded. Several hundred solar supporters submitted comments to the Public Service Commission urging commissioners to reject the utilities’ gambit. These letters reminded the commission that any consideration of net metering should include a full accounting of the benefits solar provides to the grid, and to West Virginia in terms of jobs and economic development. The commission should not create rules that penalize solar owners for contributing power to the local energy system. Rooftop solar benefits all ratepayers in the state and should not be singled out because the utilities want to avoid competition.

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