By JACK WEATHERLY
The South Mississippi Electric Power Association objects to the state’s new net-metering rule whereby homeowners and others can produce electricity and sell it to utilities.
The association contends the state Public Service Commission is attempting to set rates for its 419,000 customers, departing from a long-standing policy of the association’s membership deciding that.
But it is willing to strike a compromise and avoid litigation, General Manager and Chief Executive Jim Compton said in an interview on Tuesday.
The commission does not have the authority to set rates because its rule as applied to the association puts it in conflict with federal law, South Mississippi Electric argues.
The PSC gave the association till Oct. 6, 2016 to come up with a plan to comply with the rule.
Meantime, the association will file an appeal seeking to seek to persuade the three-man commission to drop a 2.5-cent per kilowatt hour add-on to the rate that utilities will pay homeowners and businesses that produce electricity, Compton said.
The add-on was part of a compromise the commission reached in setting the rate at 7 cents to 7.5 cents per kWh for three years, after which the add-on will be “replaced” and “actual benefits” are determined.
Solar industry advocates favored 10 cents and investor-owned Entergy, the largest utility in the state, proposed 4 cents to 4.5 cents.
Now South Mississippi Electric favors something closer to what Entergy had proposed.
The association has been allowing customers to produce and sell solar-panel produced electricity for five years, according to Compton.
“The only thing the (commission) order adds is the required subsidy for the solar energy – a subsidy that will be paid by every member of an electric cooperative that is unable or unwilling to purchase a rooftop solar system,” Compton said.
“We think we are aligned” with the commission “other than the subsidy issue,” Compton said. “We would not litigate the jurisdiction issue if we could get rid of the subsidy.”
“We have two new commissioners now. And I don’t know what their take is going to be,” he said.
Cecil Brown, a Democrat, was elected commissioner for the Central District in the November general election, replacing Steve Renfroe, who was named by Gov. Phil Bryan, a Republican, to replace Leonard Bentz, who resigned in 2013 to take another job. Sam Britton, a Republican, was elected to the Southern District position after Lynn Posey, also a Republican, chose not to seek a third term.
They join Brandon Presley, Northern District commissioner and a Democrat, who was re-elected.
An appeal might come at bad time, as the commission took five years after it established a docket to consider the rule, a version of which has been passed by 44 other states.
In April, the commission set a July 1 deadline for written comment on the proposed rule, which was based in large part on a study by the Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge, Mass., which the regulators commissioned.
After comments were received, the PSC held a hearing on Oct. 6 at which statements from utilities, solar companies and the state attorney general’s office were put into the record. Then the commission extended the comment period for another two weeks.
Entergy and Mississippi Power Co., the two investor-owned utilities, were instructed to notify their customers within three months of the effective date, which is in January, of the opportunity to participate in the program.
South Mississippi Electric’s goal is to derive one percent of its electricity by solar means by 2017.
Entergy and Mississippi Power are just entering the solar field.