By JACK WEATHERLY
The current Mississippi Public Service Commission has till Dec. 31 if it wants to make a final decision during its tenure on its proposed net-metering rule for residential solar power generation – four years after the idea was introduced.
Sides in the debate over the proposed rule have gotten what would be presumably their last chance for comments before the Mississippi Public Service Commission makes its final decision.
Katherine Collier, commission executive secretary of the commission, said the decision probably would be made by the end of the year.
If not, all three positions on the commission could be held by new officeholders after the Nov. 3 general election, putting them at a disadvantage on a final decision about the complex rule. The commissioners will be seated on the first business day after the first of the year.
Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley is the only one of the incumbents seeking reelection.
Presley said Tuesday that the decision could be made in 2015, but he said he’s “not at all predicting a resolution” by then.
“We want to make sure we get it right.”
The commission holds its regular meetings on first Tuesdays.
The commission set a deadline of July 1 this year for written comments, then held a hearing Oct. 6, at which another deadline for written comments was set for Oct. 20.
In its supplemental comments, Energy Mississippi reiterated its contention that the PSC’s draft rule has some shortcomings.
As proof, it cited a decision by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 12 to close to new customers its net-metering program – whose framework is similar to that of the PSC’s draft rule – because it “unfairly shifts infrastructure costs to non-net-metering customers.”
In replacing those provisions, the Hawaii panel has “adopted . . . exactly the type of framework that (Entergy) has proposed,” said the utility, which has 441,000 customers.
Entergy’s assistant general counsel Jeremy Vanderloo warned in the Oct. 6 hearing of the unintended consequence of shifting of costs.
Mississippi Power Co., which serves 186,000 customers, likewise cited the decision in Hawaii as evidence of what it says is “cost shifting (that) can be found in many (states).” Net metering has been set up in 44 states.
Another major utility, the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, said that, based on his comments at the Oct. 6 hearing, Commissioner Presley evidently thought that the association was opposed to net metering.
Noting that retail customers are already allowed to sell their electricity, the association said it does not oppose net metering as long as the rule “does not require a subsidy and does not put any upward pressure on rates.”
The association, which has 11 distribution groups and serves 419,000 customers, says 26 retail members already provide electricity to the grid.
“Many SMEPA retail members simply do not want to be forced to pay a subsidy to owners of roof-top solar.” the association said in its Oct. 20 filing.
On the upside, the Solar Energy Industries Association said the PSC’s draft rule allows for leasing of solar equipment to retail producers, “opening the opportunity for participation in net metering to a broader range of utility customers.”
“Several parties in this proceeding have asserted that net metering is inherently unfair, claiming that it shifts the fixed costs” to nonparticipants,” Solar Energy Industries said. “However, the same argument could be made for utility customers (who invest) in . . . energy efficiency improvements” such as Energy Star appliances and LED lighting.
Similarly, the Alliance for Solar Choice in its supplemental comments endorsed the study commissioned by the PSC and conducted by Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge, Mass., which provided a “comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.”
Entergy said that the Synapse study used only hypothetical figures, not data derived from Mississippi utilities.