Business, Energy, State Government

Protests continue against Mon Power/Potomac Edison proposal to lower net metering credits; companies explain their reasoning

MORGANTOWN – Public opposition continues to a proposal by Mon Power and Potomac Edison to change the way they credit home solar power customers who contract for net metering.

Meanwhile, the companies have voiced objection to a proposal by a group of energy and consumer advocacy groups to change the way they’re requesting the change.

And the companies on Thursday answered a question from The Dominion Post about an apparent conflict in the two ways they’re approaching solar energy production – utility production versus home production.

Net-metering customers generate all or a portion of their own power, typically through solar, and receive credits on their bill for any power they generate in excess of what they use.

Currently, the companies provide a full 1-to-1 credit, meaning energy given to the utility is worth the same as energy bought from the utility. The current residential base rate is about 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and could go up to about 13 cents as the companies’ several rate cases reach their respective conclusions.

The companies propose to change that to base the credits on the wholesale rate for electricity, which the filings calculate at 6.6 cents per kWh – roughly half of the 13 cents per kWh.

As of Thursday afternoon, the state Public Service Commission had received 609 letters of protest against the proposed change. While most are batch-submitted form letters, some come from individuals, including three submitted this week.

One customer said he is an existing net-metering customer and will be grandfathered in under the existing credit structure, but he opposes it because the investment in installing a system is substantial; he will take 15 years to pay back his investment. He also has to pay a monthly basic fee to Mon Power even when he has a credit balance.

“If we truly as a country want to move toward cleaner energy, we need to help the individual who invests in the alternatives,” he said. “The current clean energy alternatives cannot supply all the energy needed and we still need these energy companies to balance and fill the gap that alternative energy sources leave. Rather than giving individuals an unfair price on the exchange of energy there has to be a better way.”

While the companies need to make a profit, he said, “Don’t do it on the backs of the few who are trying to help move forward to cleaner energy.”

A second customer said, “FirstEnergy [the companies’ parent company] should focus on helping its own customers maintain their savings rather than focusing on benefiting out-of-state investors. West Virginia is an energy state and should include renewable energy jobs and savings in its identity as an energy powerhouse.”

The third, from Fairmont, said she has worked in the solar industry for almost seven years and has helped hundreds of families go solar – a life-changing move as the area’s electric bills have risen faster than the national rate.

Her family is planning to build a new, solar-powered home, But “without the one-to-one net metering that we have now, we, like so many others will leave the state of West Virginia. … I am not sure why you would want to handicap an actual growing industry in the state. This policy is trying to pick winners and losers in the state of West Virginia, please just let solar play on the even playing field.”

Navigating the request

As we’ve reported, the confusion comes because the proposal is included in two separate rate cases: an ENEC case where they request a rate hike to cover their expended net energy costs, and a general rate case that includes customer charges for infrastructure and for their energy assistance program.

West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient West Virginia filed a motion with the PSC earlier this month to strike the net-metering discussion from the ENEC, which they say is the wrong venue to consider the proposal.

The companies created the problem, they say, by initiating the discussion of moving to a wholesale-based credit in the general rate case but then defining that rate in the ENEC case.

The three groups say that, apart from some legal problems associated with splitting the proposal, restricting it to the general rate case would be more efficient and less confusing for all parties in subsequent litigation.

The companies argued in this week’s filing that their action is not confusing. The ENEC case, they said, is about energy prices and is the right place to discuss wholesale rates. Also, when they filed the base rate case in May, the review period used to calculate the companies’ costs to produce electricity had not ended, so they could not have calculated the wholesale rate at that time.

And, they say, wholesale energy prices are typically not discussed in base rate cases. Finally, since the opposing groups oppose any change in the credit structure, the wholesale price is irrelevant, and it doesn’t matter where the companies discuss it.

Home solar vs utility solar

The companies have obtained PSC approval to build three solar-power facilities – including one outside Morgantown adjacent to Mon Power’s Fort Martin plant – and are awaiting the OK on two more.

We posed to the companies a question about the seeming contradiction: promoting solar power they generate while, according to the many protests, discouraging home solar; and that some view this as evidencing an interest in the bottom line more than in solar power itself.

They responded that their solar program was created to support a state law passed in 2020 intended to help meet the state’s electricity needs while also fostering economic growth. The law allows electric utilities to own and operate up to 200 megawatts of renewable energy facilities. (As we’ve reported, it also says the net-metering charge may not cross-subsidize between different groups of customers, and the credit must be provided at fair value.)

They said many companies now require a portion of their electricity to come from renewable sources. “Our five utility-scale solar facilities will contribute to meeting this demand and offer renewable choices for customers that have not been available in the past.”

They concluded: “We want to clarify that we are not discouraging net metering. We are committed to fairness for all our customers. Currently, net metering customers do not pay for our generation capacity, transmission or distribution systems. This means that non-net metering customers are covering the costs for both their own usage and that of net-metering customers. We are working to ensure a fair balance for everyone.”