West Virginia politicians are years behind embracing clean energy technology which is a major job creator in many states, choosing to cling to natural gas and coal, while power companies are now seeking an 11% user increase because electric consumption has gone down in the Mountain State. - Bob Weaver

By Loren B. Howley Oct 28, 2018

About eight years ago, my husband and I installed solar panels on our farm in Calhoun County. The panels provide about 35 percent of our total electricity. In our rural area, power outages are frequent and it has been common to lose power for many consecutive days.

Our solar and battery storage system provides security so that our critical appliances, especially the water pump, which provides household water from the well, and the deep freezer, which preserves food that took countless hours to raise and put up, stay operational even when Mon Power's power is out for many days at a time.

Our investment is now at risk, thanks to Mon Power and Appalachian Power.

These utilities are asking the Public Service Commission to drastically reduce the rate at which solar homeowners are compensated for the power we produce.

Currently, Mon Power charges us for all of the electricity we consume, even what is produced by our own panels, and pays us back at the same rate for the electricity produced by our panels. That deal — called "net metering" — is required by the Public Service Commission and it is the deal we expected to keep receiving when we invested in our panels.

The utilities are asking the PSC for permission to purchase solar from homeowners at only 3 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, instead of the retail rate. This would cut the income received by solar homeowners by about two-thirds, dramatically lengthening the payback period for our solar investments and making it uneconomic to go solar in West Virginia.

In their filing, the utilities say that they are not opposed to "grandfathering existing net metering customers, for a limited number of years from the date of installation of their customer generator [solar] facility, as they may have installed equipment based on a believed all-in retail rate offset. Most customers do not install based on this premise, but there could be some."

To the contrary, I and all of the other solar homeowners that I know in West Virginia have installed solar systems based on the premise that we will receive a fair price — the retail price — for our electricity from our utility company. Receiving this fair price for "a few years" followed by over a decade of receiving a much lower price for our solar power is not an appropriate way to treat homeowners who made good-faith investments in solar.

This filing comes as part of a case in which the Public Service Commission has proposed some minor changes to the existing net metering rules. The commission's changes — which primarily relate to making sure net metering customers pay for any upgrades to their electric meter required to install solar — are designed to make sure that these costs are not borne by nonsolar customers. This makes sense.

In contrast, the utilities' proposal is designed to strangle the solar industry in West Virginia in its infancy. Even though less than 0.01 percent of electricity in the state is generated by residential solar, the utilities are intent on preserving their monopoly. They know that their proposal would destroy the economic viability of residential solar and create an enormous disincentive for anyone considering installing solar panels on their roof. By the same token, their proposal would wipe out the growing job market for solar system installers, who are West Virginia small-business owners and create jobs for other West Virginians.

The solar industry is growing rapidly in the United States, and jobs in the industry have tripled since 2010. Yet our monopoly utilities are intent on holding us back from this economic development opportunity for West Virginia. This is bad policy: bad for business, bad for jobs, bad for property owners. It would keep West Virginia from the progress we need to make, hurting our economy and our citizens.

The Public Service Commission is accepting comments (in case number GO 258.3) until Nov. 8. I hope that the commission will reject the monopoly utilities' attempt to crush the solar industry in West Virginia.

The public may submit comments to the PSC by fax, at 304-340-0325, or by mail to Ingrid Ferrell, executive secretary, Public Service Commission of West Virginia, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323.

Loren B. Howley lives in Chloe.

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