A recent column by Martin C. Fredricks IV published by The Forum expressed support for net metering legislation. I’m relatively sure that the writer was not in the committee room for the bill’s hearing. However, I was, so let me be clear. It was a bad bill, and the amendments made it even worse.
The writer lauded the bill and its prime sponsor, Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, D-Fargo, suggesting that it would make expensive renewable energy generation equipment more economical for utility customers and provide a more equitable reimbursement for customer-generated electricity. Allow me to explain the crucial pieces of this legislation that were not mentioned in his column.
First, this bill would have mandated that electric companies buy back excess power produced by residential or commercial consumers who have some way of generating electricity for themselves. Utilities would have to purchase up to two megawatts, or potentially more with Public Service Commission approval, of excess consumer-generated electricity at a price set by the PSC. How much is a megawatt? Enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes.
Further, this buyback mandate would have been aggressive in scope. The bill not only included electricity produced on an individual’s home or property, but all of such production anywhere within an electric company’s service area. This proposal went far beyond rooftop solar panels.
Please don’t get the impression that electric cooperatives are not doing their part to work with consumer-members or to reduce carbon emissions. Electric cooperatives are self-governed local utilities. The cooperative business model works best when those who receive the service make decisions about it, and North Dakota’s electric cooperatives are very aligned and adaptive to their members’ preferences. Many electric cooperatives in our state have already adopted policies to allow for the buyback of excess power produced by member-owners through solar and wind, at a rate more closely reflective of wholesale rates.
Nearly 30 percent of all the electric power consumed by electric cooperative members is produced by wind, solar and hydroelectric generated electricity. Also, generation cooperatives are investing in and working diligently to deploy new technologies that significantly reduce and capture carbon emissions. Electric co-ops also offer programs which emphasize energy efficiency and conservation. These programs benefit all members, helping to reduce individual electric bills while encouraging members to take ownership of their energy footprint.
Supporters used this bill as a platform to talk about the environment. We, too, want to continue to engage in these conversations. Our member-owned electric cooperatives are leaders and innovators when it comes to renewable energy, conservation and innovation.
However, pursuing new ways to put excess power on the grid – whether it is needed or not – and forcing all utility consumers to pay for it is not the answer. Instead, we must work together to make advances to address a changing climate.