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UPDATE: PSC rejects reconsidering net-metering rule

Cecil Brown

Cecil Brown

Samuel Britton

Samuel Britton

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Public Service Commission had a month to enjoy the fruits of it five years of labor in producing a net-metering rule, which allows customers to produce power by rooftop solar panels and sell it to utilities.

Mississippi became the 45th state to pass such a rule.

Then the returns came in. Four filers  asked the commission to reconsider its decision issued on Dec. 3.

But the commission rejected the requests, leaving petitioners a challenge in court if they so choose.

Commission Chairman Brandon Presley said Wednesday afternoon that the commission took no action on the petitions, in effect denying them.

Brandon Presley

Brandon Presley

The Electric Power Associations of Mississippi Inc. contends the commission simply does not have the authority to impose the rule on it.

The South Mississippi Power Association had served notice already in an interview published Dec. 17 in the Mississippi Business Journal that it was not exactly on board.

Then it made that official on Jan. 4 with the filing that states that it, likewise, does not think the commission has the authority to impose the rule on it, much less impose a “subsidy” to make it work.

It noted again that it has been allowing its members to net meter for a number of years.

Even the industry that stands to benefit from net metering has a bone or two to pick with the commission.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, founded by rooftop solar companies, says there are “substantive ambiguities” and errors in application of law that need to be clarified, or else a rehearing is warranted.

Likewise, the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi states that it, too, along with its members who purchase power from the Tennessee Valley Authority, petition for a rehearing.

The commission acknowledged in the rule that the TVA co-ops were net metering already and that that was acceptable.

Presley has been joined now by two new members of the three-person panel. Neither Cecil Brown, a Democrat representing the Central District, nor Sam Britton, a Republican, Southern District commissioner, participated in the years-long process of developing the rule.

Entergy and Mississippi Power have until March to notify its customers that they have an opportunity to participate in net metering.

Entergy, one of the state’s two investor-owned utilities, said immediately after the commission adopted the rule that it “appears to be a reasonable compromise that has addressed the major substantive issues raised by various parties.”

Mara Hartmann, spokeswoman for Entergy, said Tuesday that “we are governed by the commission. We are moving forward with net-metering implementation.”

Mississippi Power Co., the state’s other investor-owned utility, issued a statement Tuesday in response to a question posed by the Journal as to whether it was on board with the rule:

“The company’s commitment to renewable energy is already evident in Mississippi Power’s more than 100 MW of cost-effective, utility-scale solar approved by the commission in November.”

The Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, likewise, said that the commission is attempting to set rates for its customers, in violation of federal law.

Michael Callahan, executive director of the association, said that the organization has been allowing net metering since 1978.

“All this rule adds is the cost,” Callahan said in an interview.

Entergy had suggested paying the producers 4 cents to 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour, its calculation of the cost derived by “avoiding” the production expenses assumed by the home- or business-based solar-energy producers.

Solar industry advocates proposed the going retail rate for Entergy customers – about 10 cents kWh.

The commission settled on a compromise of 7 cents to 7.5 cents kWh for three years, at which time the “adder” of 2.5 cents will be “replaced” after “actual benefits” are determined.

Concern was expressed about the potential cost-shifting onto nonparticipating customers – including those with lower incomes — and the exclusion of such customers from participating.

So the commission required that Entergy and Mississippi Power offer an additional 2 cents per kWh for the first 1,000 lower income participants for 15 years.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, says that significant changes in the commission’s proposed rule after a comment period and public hearing resulted in confusion.

The changes adopted after the review process provide “less incentive for customers to adopt net metering,” according to the Sierra Club.

Thus, instead of revisiting the rule after five years, the club suggested that be done annually.

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About Jack Weatherly