Editorials, Opinion

Leave the 1-to-1 solar credit alone

In addition to the multiple rate hikes it’s requesting, Mon Power (and sister company Potomac Edison) are also asking for the Public Service Commission to approve adjustments to net-metering so that new customers who generate their own power receive less than the 1-to-1 credit that current customers are getting. (Since solar accounts for 99.6% of generating capacity, vs. 0.04% for wind, we will focus on solar.)

In one of two filings to the PSC addressing the change, Mon Power said it wanted “to adjust the amount the customer will be credited for kWh [kilowatt hours] produced in a given month, or excess kWh credited against a future month” to match the wholesale price of electricity. Right now, Mon Power’s residential base rate for electricity is 11.4 cents per kWh (likely to jump to 13 cents after other increase requests). The wholesale price for electricity, which is what power is sold for on the larger market, is calculated at 6.6 cents in the PSC filing — almost 5-7 cents less than the current credit.

Mon Power insists this is necessary so “other customers are not subsidizing net metering customers and so [they] actually pay for the distribution, transmission and capacity facilities that they use and costs that are incurred for them.”

However, Mon Power hasn’t satisfactorily proven that non-solar customers are, in fact, subsidizing solar customers.  It fails to give a price for the “distribution, transmission and capacity facilities” for which solar customers supposedly don’t pay.     

However, customer-generated solar provides multiple benefits. As West Virginians for Energy Freedom’s Leah Barbor points out, solar customers use the shared power grid less frequently, so they contribute less to wear and tear. Customer-generated solar can also offer cheaper power at times when the grid may be overwhelmed by high demand or natural disasters.

We also agree with the multiple complaints that reducing net-metering will negatively impact the spread of solar energy. The appeal of solar is it allows for increased energy independence — and that solar panels eventually pay for themselves by lowering your electric bill. A lesser credit won’t necessarily mean solar-generating customers get a higher bill for using Mon Power’s electricity, but it definitely means they won’t garner as much savings from the power they do produce, so the panels don’t “pay for themselves” as quickly. Since the credit adjustment only targets newer customers, it may dissuade people who had been interested in generating solar power.

We would also like to note that there has been widespread pushback to Mon Power’s other rate increase requests — ones that impact all customers. There are, however, far fewer net-metering customers. In the simple terms of numbers, there are fewer people to oppose this specific request, perhaps making it easier to get approval from the PSC.

If the request is approved, would non-solar customers see smaller bills as solar generators cover their “fair share”? Or will Mon Power collect the difference as profits?

Without more articulate reasoning or the numbers to support Mon Power’s claims, the solar credit should remain unchanged.