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OPINION: Natural gas lobby attacking residential solar in Kentucky

By Jamie Clark

Natural gas lobbying groups like the Consumer Energy Alliance are attacking solar energy in Kentucky, and they are using our legislature to do it. House Bill 227 is designed to kill residential solar by devaluing the way the utility companies have to pay homeowners who generate more solar energy than they need.

Currently utilities have to credit residential solar customers $1 for every $1 that their solar system feeds the grid for the utility to sell to another electric customer. I give them a dollar when the sun is out, and they give me a dollar back when my solar is not producing enough power to meet my home’s needs. This is an even exchange just like a savings account at my bank.

In reality it’s a better than even exchange for the utility companies because they face supply and demand issues like any other business. According to one Kentucky power provider’s website, electricity is worth three times as much during the summer between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., which just so happens to be the time that residential solar power is producing at its best. During this time, the utility sells certain customers power at $.27 per kilowatt hour but only gives a residential solar owner a $.09 credit for that same power, effectively making a 300 percent profit off of solar.

Plain and simple, solar power is good for the utility grid. That’s why every major utility in the state is adding solar generation to its power plants. The advocates of HB 227 are not against solar, they are just against homeowners being able to generate their own power. What do you think would happen if the cable TV people could go back in time and make it illegal to put a satellite dish on your roof? Wouldn’t that be pretty good for the cable TV business model?

So, if solar is good for the grid, why is the natural gas lobby trying to kill it in Kentucky? Because natural gas is already taking over Kentucky coal power plants and they do not want any more competition. Ten years ago Kentucky was 93 percent powered by coal, and today only 64 percent of our power plants run on coal. Natural gas is overtaking coal in Kentucky in dramatic fashion.

The highly paid lobbyists in Frankfort are trying to convince legislators that HB 227 is about being fair, that it’s about the coal industry, that it’s about rich versus poor or that it’s about Louisville and Lexington versus the rest of the state. Frankly, these arguments are being used to manipulate our elected officials into voting for a bill that lessens competition in a crucial market.

After weeks of political manipulation, this bill will likely come up for a vote on Friday, February 16. Please call your legislators and tell them to vote no on HB 227 and stand up for a free market for energy in Kentucky. Call leave a message for your legislator and each of the House leaders on the Natural Resource Committee. It is especially important for the legislators outside of Louisville and Lexington to hear from people in their districts. The lobbyists are trying to divide the rural legislators away from the ones in Louisville and Lexington to manipulate votes.

Jamie Clark is owner of Synergy Home and a board member of the Kentucky Solar Energy Society.