February 03, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As some utility companies across the country attempt to discourage the growth of residential renewable energy sources that help people lower their energy bills, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today spoke on the Senate floor in favor of an amendment they have filed to the comprehensive energy bill that would support free market competition in the energy industry and foster individual energy independence for families and businesses across America.
“Today, we still have central power plants. We still have wires. But we also have homes and businesses making their own electricity and storing their own electricity from that big nuclear fusion plant up in the sky. This is a good development. It empowers consumers. It empowers families. It provides competition. It strengthens the grid by making it more resilient because power is going in two directions. It saves money and, of course, it reduces our dependency on fossil fuels,” Senator King said.
“This issue is very simple: it’s fair compensation to the customers for the energy they produce or save and fair compensation to the utility for maintaining the grid. I know there are costs to the utility for maintaining the grid, and they’ve got to be fairly compensated. But the question is: what is the right number? Arbitrary, exorbitant fees that make the development of solar or storage unfeasible is not the right number,” he continued.
The amendment filed by Senators King and Reid to the energy bill under consideration by the Senate would protect customers that have existing agreements with their electric utility for rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources from unjustified and abusive rate hikes or new fees. The amendment would not mandate policy. Instead, it only would direct state regulatory agencies to consider guaranteeing that distributed energy resources will receive just and reasonable rates for the energy and serves that they provide for the grid. Doing so would allow for the continued growth of distributed resources such as solar or battery, which could have vast environmental, economic, and security benefits, while also ensuring the utilities are properly compensated for maintaining and operating the electric grid.
“This amendment is really a modest one. It is not a takeover of the regulatory process. It simply urges and advocates that the state public utilities commissions take into account the positive factors of solar as well as the costs in order to reach a fair compensation agreement between utilities and their customers,” Senator King said. “This is the future. It is going to happen. The only question is whether it happens efficiently, fairly, or by fighting. I would prefer the former. I think this is an important part of the future of this country and we have an important role to play in this body.”
The Senators’ stand for consumers’ right to pursue personal energy independence comes as some utilities across the country, including in Nevada, attempt to clamp down on use and growth of distributed resources by retroactively hiking rates or imposing new fees on families and businesses who had already reached agreements on the use of those resources. By making it more difficult to afford distributed resources, these utilities, in effect, are undermining investments made by customers on their renewable energy systems and discouraging potential future customers from pursuing them. The end result is less energy independence and a greater reliance on an electric grid operated by the utility company.
The amendment falls in line with legislation introduced last year by Senator King – the Free Market Energy Act of 2015 – that would establish a set of parameters for the governance of distributed energy resources and retain the authority of each state to design its own set of rules within those parameters to properly reflect the state’s needs.