By JACK WEATHERLY
A process that began five years ago cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday as Mississippi considers adoption of a “net-metering” rule that would allow residents who equip their homes with solar cells to produce electricity and get credit on their utility bills.
The Mississippi Public Service Commission heard from a number of intervenors during a two-hour hearing in Jackson and extended the comment period.
At one point, North Mississippi Commissioner Brandon Presley suggested two more weeks, later issuing a press release stating that was the decision.
Two major utilities expressed concern that the rule might have unintended consequences that would burden other customers, but most who made comments supported the concept.
Brent Bailey of Canton, a Republican candidate for the Central Mississippi district on the commission, said that despite what he described as opposition from the state’s utilities, he views the net-metering rules as written as an opportunity for Mississippians to help to invest in renewable energy, create jobs and offer themselves a choice.
He said that South Carolina earlier this year became the 44th state to adopt a net-metering policy.
Robert Wigul, attorney for the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club, endorsed the proposed rule, which was based on a PSC-commissioned study.
“You’ve got a good rule here . . . . It’s time to give the public a chance to see what they want to do,” Wigul said.
However, Jeremy Vanderloo, assistant general counsel for Entergy Mississippi, cautioned that the commissioners be careful not to shift costs to those who do not install solar panels.
Wigul acknowledged that there is the possiblity of “poorer ratepayers subsidizing the more-wealthy ratepayers.”
But the study by Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge, Mass., commissioned by the PSC, didn’t find that to be the case, he said. Plus, he said that utilities have not produced publicly any studies to the contrary.
Another recent study, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cautions that net metering does shift costs to poorer customers, according to greentech-media.com.
Mississippi Power Co. is committed to renewable energy, said Michael Malenfant, attorney for the utility, said. “We believe that a fairly crafted net-metering rule can lead to further development of other renewable resources in the state, while also protecting customers,” Malenfant said.
“The net-metering rule should also ensure that all customers pay their fair share for the availability and use of the electrical grid,” Malenfant said.
Vanderloo said that “Entergy Mississippi absolutely supports net metering,” and customers who participate in it should receive fair value for the electricity they produce, said. But he cautioned about the possibility of the unintended consequence of shifting of costs. “It’s true. It’s been documented and it’s causing problems in other states around the country.”
“We’re the only party in this proceeding that has quantified the rates that net-metered rates have on customers.”
A customer who uses 1,250 kilowatt hours per month would save approximately $40 on average, Vanderloo said. “That’s a 30 percent reduction,” he said.
Another major electricity provider, South Mississippi Electric Power Association, argues that the PSC does not have the authority to force it to adopt net metering.
Entergy Mississippi and Mississippi Power have this year begun building pilot solar programs to possibly produce electricity on the utility scale.