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Electric co-ops support net metering changes

Cassette tapes, VCRs, Disco music, CB radios: They were all great ideas in the 1980s, but not so much today. That’s the case with Missouri’s net metering law. Written when solar panels and wind generation were in their infancy, the law needs changes to better reflect improvements in technology and declining costs for the equipment.

That’s why Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives are supporting Senate Bill 246 and House Bill 340. These companion measures, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus and Rep. Travis Fitzwater, would allow utilities to set rates for net metering that would prevent unfair subsidization of grid costs for those who can afford to install their own solar panels and wind generation by those who cannot.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar or wind energy system owners for the electricity they produce and add to the grid. The current law was a compromise intended to help kickstart alternative energy systems when they were both complicated to install and expensive to purchase.

But times have changed, and today owners of those systems do not pay their fair share of the cost to build, operate and maintain the electric grid. That forces the other consumers — who perhaps can not afford to install their own generation — to pay more.

Through net metering, a consumer can generate enough power to meet their needs. In the event they generate more power than they are using, they can sell the excess back to their utility. This sounds like a good plan and it is except for a critical flaw.

The cost for electricity includes a charge for the power lines that carry electricity to homes and businesses. Those who rely on the utility for all of their electricity pay this fee. But when someone generates electricity and wants to sell the excess back to the utility they use the same power lines without paying for them.

For smaller utilities such as electric cooperatives, this negative impact increases because there are fewer members to share costs. One provision in the new bills would allow locally controlled boards at smaller electric cooperatives and municipals to decide whether net metering is in the best interest of their consumers.

The current law requires that net generation customers be treated exactly the same as those without generation equipment. This is what causes the subsidization of grid costs. The new bills would allow electric suppliers the flexibility to either offer net metering under the current law, or in the alternative, to adopt rates that are designed to reduce the cross subsidies.

Changes would not be automatic. For consumer-owned electric cooperatives and municipal systems, local governing boards would have to approve them. Investor-owned utilities would need Public Service Commission approval.

A recent survey conducted all across Missouri showed that 82 percent of Missourians think that reliable and affordable electricity is the top priority for net metering.

Most importantly, the majority of electric users in Missouri said that fairness to all — having everyone pay their fair share of costs — is more important than offering subsidies to those who have solar and wind systems.

This survey showed that nearly 80 percent of electric cooperative member-owners are not willing to pay more for their electricity to help subsidize their neighbors who want to install small scale renewable energy.