Environment

Kentucky’s House of Representatives has approved a bill that would allow state regulators to set rates for the solar power that customers feed back into the electricity grid.

The bill passed the House on Wednesday evening 49-45.

Supporters of the measure say the bill protects low-income families who can’t afford to pay more for their utility bills. Opponents say the bill is a giveaway to big utilities.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Gooch said the latest version of the bill offers a fair compromise between the competing interests of utilities and customers with solar panels on their homes.

“We’ve done everything we could to try to satisfy,” Gooch said. “We don’t think this bill will put solar operators out of business. As a matter of fact, the utilities still have to buy back your excess power.”

About 1,000 households in Kentucky with rooftop solar panels put extra energy back onto the power grid through Kentucky’s net metering program. State law requires power companies to compensate those households with credit toward future bills, and right now, they’re required to pay the retail price of power.

The latest version of the bill would allow Kentucky’s Public Service Commission to set rates for the solar power that customers feed back into the electricity grid.

Tom FitzGerald, an environmental attorney and the director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the measure also changes the current net metering model so that the Public Service Commission can set the rate for all the electricity fed into the grid during the day, rather than the excess generated over the course of a month.

Republican Representative Chris Fugate said he voted for the bill to protect low-income families who can’t afford to pay any more on their utility bills.

“And I don’t care if it’s two cents or $100,” Fugate said. “I don’t want my people… or anyone else that represents Southeast Kentucky to, I don’t want them to have to pay one red cent more than they are paying.”

But Democratic Representative Chris Harris says the bill’s many incarnations show the influence Kentucky’s utility companies have at the Legislature.

“In the end, for me, this is a simple vote. The bill takes money away from the citizens of Kentucky and gives it to big utilities,” Harris said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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