Environment

Residents are running out of time to make public comments on the future of solar pricing in Kentucky.

Under a new state law that takes effect next year, utility regulators are gathering information to decide the value of the energy that rooftop solar customers put back onto the grid.

Right now, solar customers receive a credit equal to the retail value of the energy they put back on the grid. But beginning next year, utilities can apply to the commission to set new rates for net-metering customers.

The commission is now on a fact-finding mission with obligations to consider the impact solar rates will have on both customers and utilities.

“What we look at is ‘what are the benefits and costs internally to the utility and its customers’,” said PSC spokesman Andrew Melnykovych.

Utilities including Louisville Gas & Electric have argued the old rate was too high, while solar advocates say it wasn’t high enough. Residents have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to offer public comments through the Kentucky Public Service Commission website.

More than a dozen solar advocates gathered outside the Public Service Commission in Frankfort on Monday to deliver about 300 comments ahead of the deadline.

“We urge the Public Service Commission to require retail price net metering. With it, net-metered rooftop solar is a simple low cost way to tiptoe into this new energy economy,” said Barry Zalph, a Louisville resident who was standing outside the commission office.

Some, including Dr. Edward Roberts of Mount Sterling, said he would like to see the PSC consider the health benefits of using renewables over fossil-fuel energies like coal, which currently accounts for about 75 percent of the state’s power.

“Because if you look at the true value of what we do to stabilize the grid, provide energy for our neighbors and provide improved health, that’s the true value,” Roberts said.

But Melnykovych said certain benefits of solar versus fossil fuels, such as the reduced carbon footprint and health benefits, are outside the purview of what the commission will consider.

“All of those externalities do not fall into the calculation because the commission simply does not have the ability to do that,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey voted against the measure last year, but now that it’s passed he said it’s important for the Public Service Commission to consider all the available information, including the benefits for people adding solar panels on their own homes.

“We need something that will encourage renewable energy and jobs in Kentucky while remaining fair to ratepayers,“ he said.

Residents will have another chance to speak about the PSC’s decision at a public hearing on November 13.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.