Net-metering amendment rankles power sector

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Top utility groups have come out against an amendment to the Senate’s energy bill that aims to limit state regulators from imposing new rates for net-metering policies.

In a letter sent to senators, the American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association warn the amendment by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “would impose prescriptive electricity policies on the states and on certain localities and would intrude on critical retail electric service decisions that are — and have always been — subject to the authority of states, localities and rural electric cooperatives.”

“This federal, one-size-fits-all mandate should be rejected,” the groups wrote.

The King-Reid amendment addresses the ongoing battles playing out over rooftop solar in states such as Nevada by imposing new conditions on state regulators in changing rate classifications for net metering.

Specifically, the amendment would bar rate increases unless a utility or regulator “demonstrates, in an evidentiary hearing in a general rate case, that the current and future net benefits of the net metered system to the distribution, transmission and generation systems of the electric utility are less than the full retail rate.”

The amendment also would bar higher rates for net metering unless the same rate is applied to all consumers in the rate class.

Opposition from major utility groups is likely to make it harder for Democrats to secure a vote on the amendment, and one Senate Democratic aide said the letter exaggerates its effect on public utility commissions.

“PUCs would still retain discretion whether or not to adopt the consumer protection standards for solar customers,” the aide said.

“Basically, the amendment requires state regulators to consider the standard prior to making changes to existing residential net-metering customers,” the aide added. “The amendment is important because it would require that state regulators consider adopting the standards and protecting consumers from retroactive changes to their net-metering agreements with utilities. It’s a shame utilities are afraid of even having that considered.”

More amendments

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today noted that 235 amendments had been filed to the underlying bill (S. 2012) as of this morning and urged colleagues thinking about filing more to do so quickly.

“We’ve got a lot to sort through,” she said on the floor this morning as amendments continued to line up in the queue.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has filed an amendment that would dictate to U.S. EPA how to regulate emissions from existing power plants that convert coal refuse to energy.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have a proposal to “clarify” that projects at existing power plants intended to boost efficiency or curb emissions are not subject to new source reviews under the Clean Air Act.

Heitkamp and Capito have also filed a “sense of the Senate” amendment affirming a federal commitment to carbon capture utilization and storage technology.

Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island have filed a new amendment phasing out a number of fossil fuel tax incentives on the same schedule that the renewable production tax credit is phased down on.

The two senators also are working on climate-related amendments, although Whitehouse this morning said they were “still in the process.”

Afternoon votes

The Senate at 2:30 p.m. will vote on an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would sunset national monument designations after three years unless Congress and the home-state legislature enact legislation making the monuments permanent.

That proposal has drawn a flurry of opposition, with more than 100 groups penning a letter in opposition. Also weighing in against the proposal are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and major Native American tribes.

The chamber also will vote on an amendment by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would establish a national energy efficiency resource standard.

Murkowski this morning said both sides are working toward a deal to hold additional roll call votes today.

The chamber will also vote this afternoon on:

  • An amendment by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) that would direct the Interior and Agriculture departments to create a conservation incentives landowner education program.
  • An amendment by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to expedite permits for natural gas gathering lines on federal and tribal land.
  • An amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) requiring federal agencies to repeal or amend one regulation before issuing or revising a rule.
  • An amendment by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to phase out fossil fuel tax breaks according to the schedule that wind incentives wind down.
  • A proposal by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to increase funding for the Energy Department’s Office of Science.
  • An amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to require campaign finance disclosures for certain persons who benefit from fossil fuels.