Omnibus environmental bill on renewable energy and utilities moves to the House

    BRIEF

    Solar panels in a field
    With battery usage and other energy storage technologies on the rise, Senate Bill 91 aims to limit barriers that could prevent individuals from storing energy. (Getty Images)

    The House will take up an omnibus environmental bill on Thursday that would require the state to adopt rules about energy storage, among three other renewable energy measures. The legislation also includes proposals regarding hydroelectric generation, group credits for net metering, and the purchase of energy across states.

    With battery usage and other energy storage technologies on the rise, Senate Bill 91 aims to limit barriers that could prevent individuals from storing energy. It also calls for the commission to further investigate energy storage, including researching how customers who implement energy storage could be compensated for avoided transmission and distribution costs.

    Batteries and energy storage are considered important complements to what’s called intermittent energy generation. Because renewable resources like solar and wind don’t generate energy around the clock, storing energy can help fill in the gaps.

    The bill also clarifies that, for net metering purposes, hydroelectric generators that share equipment among generators should be considered separately when it comes to the net metering cap. Net metering is a way for energy generators to get credit for energy that they send back to the grid, in excess of what is used locally.

    This clarification has support from both parties, but language added to this section of the bill in an amendment introduced by House Republicans has raised concern among Democratic members of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee.

    The amendment, introduced by Rep. Michael Vose, an Epping Republican, would strike language that requires the commission to ensure rate cases are “just and reasonable,” instead requiring the commission to ensure that no rate shifting occurs. Rate shifting is when a cost to the grid is transferred to a customer who may not be directly benefiting from it.

    Rep. Kat McGhee called this language unworkable and said it would be impossible for the commission to comply. She said the concrete, absolute language is inappropriate, considering the nature of rate cases.

    “There’s cost shifting all the time,” McGhee said. “The ‘just and reasonable’ piece was to ensure customers weren’t absorbing exorbitant charges allowing someone to pay something on their dime.”

    The House Democrats plan to introduce an amendment on Thursday to remove these changes.

    The third section of the bill addresses “low-moderate income community” solar projects, clarifying which rate a project would receive based on the date that it was approved by the utilities commission. These projects have an “adder,” or extra cents per kilowatt hour that is generated. Three cents per kilowatt hour is added for projects between July 2019 and July 2021. After that the adder goes down to 2.5 cents.

    The next section of the bill deals with small, out-of-state energy producers. While the original bill would have allowed them to sell energy to purchasers and get credit for reducing the load on the electric grid, the amended version instead creates a study commission to assess whether that change can be made in the fall of 2021.

    The bill originally included a fifth provision about aggregating electric customers, which was subsequently deleted as it was mirrored in House Bill 315.