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A bill to extend the “freeze” of Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards also contains provisions that would undermine solar growth in the state, advocates say.
SB 320, which was introduced last month, “is unprecedented as far as what it’s proposing,” said Amy Heart, senior manager of public policy for Sunrun, a residential solar installer.
Specifically, the bill would undermine net metering and allow utilities to enter the rooftop solar business – essentially competing with private companies that must operate under a different set of rules.
The bill, Heart says, would “basically shut down the competitive solar market so it would freeze the industry in its tracks and give the utilities a blank slate to do what they want without oversight by the (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio).”
The bill would also redefine “renewable” energy to include power generated by nuclear plants and even some fossil fuel technologies.
Sen. Bill Seitz, who introduced the bill, could not be reached for comment.
There is almost no chance of the bill passing before the Ohio Legislature adjourns in late May. However, it is almost certain to be taken up during the legislature’s lame duck session, which will begin in November.
While solar installers now working in Ohio must comply with a raft of commission regulations, it appears that the bill would invite utilities to begin selling solar systems without having to comply with state rules.
Heart said the 100-page bill’s sprawling, obscure language required the help of attorneys and regulatory experts to clarify “what its impact would be on the industry. And it’s devastating.”
Trish Demeter, managing director of energy programs for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the bill “would allow a utility to own a behind-the-meter project. If I’m a homeowner and want to do rooftop solar, the distribution utility that would have a vested interest in not seeing solar move forward would be the owner of that project. It seems like an anti-competitive clause.”
The bill also would give utilities “a tremendous amount of power” in negotiating contracts with solar customers, Demeter said. The utility would have the upper hand in determining, for example, how much excess power it would purchase and at what price, and the terms under which it would connect with a customer’s solar panels.
“As a customer, how do I know what to negotiate in my contract if the PUC has no minimum standards?” Demeter said. “I just have to trust what that utility tells me? Maybe what they’re telling me is an advantage to them and a disadvantage to me.”
Demeter said the bill also would redefine “renewable” to include nuclear power and various “combustion-based technologies.”
“It blows up what ‘renewable’ means to make it meaningless,” she said. “And the same thing with energy efficiency. It makes it that much easier for utilities to meet their annual targets.”
Net metering changes
The bill also would change net metering rules in a way that would make distributed generation much less attractive. Utilities now calculate energy use and production by net metering customers each month. They can carry over excess power as credits indefinitely.
SB 320 would require an accounting every hour. Excess power would revert to the utility at the end of every hour.
That change in policy, Heart said, “would devalue the solar power being generated. This doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. It doesn’t fairly account for the solar production on a home.”
As she sees it, the pieces of the bill that would roll back net metering and allow utilities to unfairly compete on rooftop solar dimensions of the bill are “a huge distraction from the conversation Ohio wants to have” on its energy future.