By JACK WEATHERLY
Electric power associations in Mississippi have decided not to appeal the Public Service Commission’s new net-metering rule.
Instead, the South Mississippi Electric Power Association and the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi have worked with the commission to fashion compromise legislation to settle their differences with the rule rather than taking the matter to the state Supreme Court.
They had argued that the commission did not have the authority to set rates for net metering and sought a rehearing. But the commission took no action on the petitions, effectively rejecting them.
Net metering is a program whereby homes and businesses can produce rooftop solar energy and sell it to utilities.
The regulators argued that they weren’t attempting to set rates.
Senate Bill 2089, as originally introduced, would have sharply restricted the commission’s powers over co-ops, but a compromise rolled out last week preserves most of that authority, according to the Associated Press. Commission President Brandon Presley, a Nettleton Democrat, said he’s satisfied with the outcome.
“Is it everything we wanted? No,” Presley said. But he said the bill keeps alive most of the powers the PSC has asserted.
Senate Bill 2089 and its twin, House Bill 1139. which are backed by the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, are intended to update language of the enabling act of 1936.
And to insert into the act “the original legislative intent . . . and how parties have operated – up until the past few years, during which the PSC has tried to narrow the definition of ‘rate’ and thus improperly attempt to expand its regulatory authority,” states a posting on the website of the 4-County Electric Power Association, one of the 25 cooperatives.
Another measure, Senate Bill 2220, backed by SMEPA, likewise does not provide for rate-setting by the PSC over the co-ops. The commission does have rate-setting authority over the state’s two investor-owned electric utilities – Entergy Mississippi and Mississippi Power Co.
The cooperatives negotiated with the Public Service commission to settle the issue.
“We sat down with the Public Service Commission to see if we could agree . . . about what their role would be and what our flexibility would be,” Jim Compton, general manager of SMEPA, said in an interview.
Michael Callahan, chief executive of the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, said that “the electric cooperatives have never been rate-regulated (by the PSC) in our 80-year history.”
The associations agreed that they would participate in net metering and the commission wouldn’t get involved in the “actual dollars and cents,” Callahan said.
The rates to be paid to rooftop producers of electricity has been an issue since before the commission passed the rule on Dec. 3, making Mississippi the 45th state with similar legislation.
The investor-owned utilities, Entergy and Mississippi Power, have said they are complying with the rule.
Entergy had suggested paying producers 4 cents to 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Solar industry advocates proposed the going rate for Entergy customers – about 10 cents per kWh.
The commission settled on a compromise of 7 cents to 7.5 cents per kWh for three years, at which time the “adder” of 2.5 cents would 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 Entergy and Mississippi Power to offer an additional 2 cents per kWh for the first 1,000 lower-income participants for 15 years.
The Alliance for Solar Choice, founded by rooftop solar companies, objected to the rule. An attorney for the alliance did not return a phone call on Tuesday.
The Sierra Club objected to the rule because it said it did not offer sufficient incentive for customers to adopt net metering.
Robert Wiygul, attorney for the club, said Tuesday that the organization would “give it a year or two” and follow the process.
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