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DAVID DALLAS — Mississippi sunshine and the perfect storm



The perfect solar storm is hitting Mississippi. One that could have us all dancing and singing that Brady Bunch song, “Sunshine Day.” More solar panel manufacturing jobs have come to our state. Entergy Mississippi has developed a pilot project to collect better data for more efficient solar energy for its consumers. And our Public Service Commission is set to approve net metering for the state.

While net metering has been implemented in many states, its benefits have been thwarted by those determined to brand solar energy use as some Al Gore tree-hugging, left-wing, commie conspiracy. So what exactly is net metering?

Net metering is a “truly” free-market concept that requires utility monopolies to give rooftop solar customers full, fair credit for the excess energy they send back to the grid. Rooftop solar and net metering have introduced the free market concept to the electric utility market. The Mississippi Public Service Commission drafted net metering rules earlier this year and according to sources have received plenty of positive feedback, even from some utility companies.

Barry Goldwater, Jr. of a group called TUSK, applauded the PSC back in April for their draft net metering rules, which allow Mississippians to choose how to power their homes. Yes, that Barry Goldwater, Jr., son of Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican Presidential nominee from 1964. The name of his group, TUSK, apparently stands for Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, a defiant title expressing just how “under the gun” solar advocates have felt over the years.

“The Mississippi Public Service Commission got it right,” said Goldwater, who is also a retired US Congressman. “It is great to see the PSC recognize that rooftop solar is right for Mississippi.”

Promoting rooftop solar is not exactly the goal at this point for utility companies. However, Entergy Mississippi is moving forward on a pilot program called “The Bright Future Solar Project.” The state’s largest investor-owned utility is spending $4.5 million on technology designed for solar projects in Jackson, Brookhaven and DeSoto County.

Entergy says the initial projects will produce power equivalent to supply the electricity needs for just 175 homes or what is considered a medium-sized neighborhood.

“This project will help us answer questions about the economics of solar power, and how efficient or feasible it will be at various locations in Mississippi,” said Aaron Hill, Entergy Mississippi manager of asset management and planning.

“Spreading the sites across the state will help us understand locational differences, capacity factor, different weather patterns and irradiance at different locations.” Hill is a Mississippi native and has worked for Entergy in Hattiesburg for almost 15 years. He is excited about his company’s role in bringing solar to Mississippi. The project is a collaborative effort with Stion Corporation, which manufactures solar panels in Hattiesburg.

Just last week a new solar industry, Seraphim Solar, announced that they were setting up shop in Jackson. While more solar manufacturers in the state means more jobs, it also offers a better opportunity to take advantage of this renewable energy source, a clean energy source that our state deserves.

This important step towards diversification of supply will become more and more important in years and decades to come. If net metering becomes available to consumers along with expansion of these types of solar projects, life in Mississippi could turn into a bright sushiney day.

It will be interesting to see if Entergy or some other utility company in Mississippi is willing to take the lead in the development of rooftop solar. They could enable consumers to capture energy in order to sell back to the utilities. It’s a very exciting proposition.

“Entergy Mississippi is on the front edge,” Hill says. He is confident that Entergy’s three solar projects will provide the type of data needed to determine the efficiency of solar in multiple locations across Mississippi. In addition, he said Entergy will have the ability to share information online about how well the sun is producing on a particular day.

That kind of transparency would be refreshing, particularly as part of a net metering program. Would Entergy be willing to share that kind of information with customers with rooftop solar panels? That would be a mighty bold move.

The vast majority of utility monopolies around the country are not happy with rooftop solar or net metering. Their lobbyists have been working overtime wining, dining and entertaining state legislators in order to pass tax hikes, special fees, and surcharges all designed to undercut rooftop solar.

However, a source at the Public Service Commission told the MBJ that they believe the people of Mississippi are closer than ever to net metering and that the rules should benefit consumers. Maybe Mississippi will take the lead and develop a thriving rooftop solar market. A company like Entergy could help make it happen.

If administrative rules in support of net metering are enacted by the PSC, rest assured our legislature will attempt to muck up the works. Like most of our state leadership, legislators are in the back pockets of some of our more clandestine, yet celebrated, lobbyists, particularly those still supporting the Kemper County “Clean Coal” Plant.

Entergy’s small scale “Bright Future Solar Projects” may be costly now because they are in the development stage. Nevertheless, you could build nearly 1500 more of these solar projects at their current cost and still pay less than what Southern Company has spent on its Kemper Plant.

On top of that, if one considers the projected wattage produced, even fewer “Bright Future Solar Projects” could provide us with three times the energy of Southern Company’s “clean coal” boondoggle. It would cost less for consumers and create none of that “clean coal” pollution.

So here comes the sun, Mississippi. Let’s enjoy the fun, the jobs and what could be a profitable, healthy future for us all.

» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.



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