The Missouri House voted 102-51 on April 3 to approve House Bill No. 340, which has now gone to the state Senate for consideration. In passing the bill, the House supported the utility rationale that owner-generators pass on their fair share of grid upkeep expenses to “regular” ratepayers.
The bill, sponsored by Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-D49) would allow regulated utilities and rural electric power cooperatives to charge “grid usage fees” to customers with solar rooftops. According to a report by the Springfield News-Leader, an owner-generator who now pays $20 every month could be charged an extra $15, if the law passes the Senate.
Indeed, opponents say the bill is a tactic being employed by electric companies to make it tougher for solar companies to compete. They argue that the bill actually would reduce the number of solar jobs in the state, which currently employs 2,400 people in that industry according to The Solar Foundation. . Testimony at the public hearing included the complaint that solar companies didn’t have a seat at the table when the bill was drafted, the local news outlet reported.
Caleb Arthur, CEO of Springfield-based Sun Solar, reached out to the News-Leader to express his annoyance with the bill. He said his company employs about 115 people in its Springfield office – and has many local clients. He told the News-Leader that the major utilities in Missouri have been attacking solar companies for years and that this bill would drive up the price of solar energy.
“I’m kind of to the point now where I’m finally speaking out publicly about it,” Arthur told the newspaper. “I know it will probably hurt our relationship with the [electric] co-ops a little bit … but I can’t just sit by and let them try to destroy our industry over them being upset that they have competition with people wanting to go solar.”
Arthur said initial estimates through the Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association, of which he is a past president, indicate that 2,000 jobs would be lost abruptly if Fitzwater’s bill were to pass.
On the other hand, Fitzwater and other proponents who testified at a hearing on the bill — including the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, City Utilities, the Missouri Energy Development Association, and the Missouri Farm Bureau – say the measure especially will support the needs of rural power cooperatives, whose traditional customers would have to bear the extra grid maintenance costs for those owner-operators who can afford solar energy.
“We wanted to create fairness across-the-board on infrastructure costs,” Fitzwater told the local news outlet. He compared the situation to how people driving electric cars don’t pay the gasoline taxes paid by drivers of internal combustion cars and said he’s “worked as best I can with the solar guys on ensuring that we are not destroying the industry.”
Fitzwater said his intent is not to hurt companies such as Arthur’s and that he has considered a solar system for his own house. “I’m a big supporter of solar myself. I think it’s terrific,” Fitzwater said.
Arthur cited a study by the independent, nonpartisan Missouri Energy Initiative that looked at the costs and benefits of net metering and found that the practice was a boon for all customers.
“It kind of appalls me that our representatives, even the ones I get along with, will get in the news and talk about, ‘This is a pro-business legislative season,'” he told the local news outlet, “And then they want to kill one of the fastest growing industries in the state.”