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Missouri House considering solar power fees

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The House Utilities Committee held the first in a series of discussions on fees for solar customers Wednesday.

HB 539 from Rep. Jeff Knight would require customers using solar panels to pay a fee and for those selling generated energy back to the company to pay for access to the grid. The bill would also require equipment to meet a certain standard and for retail electric suppliers to allow consumers to use the energy they generate whenever they need it. Knight said the fee would even the playing field in terms of cost.

“I’m not against solar; I’m not here to kill jobs. I’m simply here for fairness in the industry,” Knight said. “There’s a cost to get that electricity. If you are a solar user and you are selling that electricity back, you’re using the grid, you’re using their lines, there’s maintenance involved in all those things. This bill would attempt to establish a cost to that use.”

Brent Stewart, general counsel for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (AMEC), spoke in favor of the bill. 

“I know that some of the areas touched on in this bill are gonna be a little controversial,” he said. “Metering systems should be installed safely and only by qualified installers, and net metering should be implemented in a way that’s fair to all consumers — solar and non-solar alike. The bulk of the proposed changes in this bill address beefing up consumer protections for those who decide to buy solar units.”

Paul McKnight, owner of St. Louis-based solar installation company EFS Energy, said it was important to hash out a way to accommodate the fledgling generation method. 

“Solar isn’t going away,” he said. “It’s going to continue to grow and expand as another form of energy generation that may be necessary for this country to bolster our energy generation. Resources need to be allocated in order to make these upgrades happen, and to try to slow that down or restrict that in any way I feel is moving in the wrong direction.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Kidd noted several witnesses did not testify in opposition due to scheduling and noted the conversation would continue during next week’s hearing. He also said the bill would likely see further discussion and changes before exiting the committee.

Representatives from advocacy group Renew Missouri were in attendance in the morning but left when the committee recessed for session. Kidd said they would be one of the parties testifying in opposition next week.

The grid has been a topic of discussion across the country this week; Missouri has dealt with rolling blackouts and outages over the past few days as winter storms continue to grip the Midwest, testing the region’s energy supply as demand and use increased.