PSC approves compromise on net metering after utility pushback
The Public Service Commission approved a slightly less aggressive net metering rule on Tuesday, responding to resistance from Mississippi’s powerful utility companies in an attempt to avoid litigation.
The PSC originally expanded incentives for net metering, or self-generating renewable power, with a new rule in July that required utility companies to increase reimbursement rates for low-income customers as well as offer rebates to help buy home solar systems. The new rule also established a Solar-for-Schools program with the goal of reducing expenses for school districts.
Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley said the PSC worked together with the regulated power companies on the new order, and doesn’t expect another appeal before the new net metering rule takes effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Mississippi is behind most states in its adoption of net metering. Out of the 47 states with a net metering rule, Mississippi has the second lowest number of self-generating customers. Most states offer customers the full retail rate when reimbursing them for self-generated energy, and Mississippi is one of six states to not do so.
Net metering advocates argue that the policy helps push forward the transition to renewable energy, which in Mississippi has been relatively slow. They also point to economic benefits of attracting the growing solar industry into the state.
After Mississippi Power and Entergy Mississippi pushed back against July revisions to the PSC’s rule, the commission approved the following changes on Tuesday:
- Narrowing the eligibility for households to receive an extra reimbursement from 250% of the federal poverty level to 225%.
- Decreasing a $3,500 rebate for home installations to $3,000, available for low to moderate income households earning up to 225% of the federal poverty level.
- Adding a $2,000 rebate for households to build a battery storage system, although customers can only use one of the two rebates
- Bringing the participation cap back from 4% to 3% of a utility company’s maximum demand. Once the cap is met, the PSC can again make revisions to the rule.
Presley emphasized the benefits that the rule would have for the 85 of the state’s 142 school districts that are eligible to participate.
Each district, he said, could see savings between $40,000 to $125,000 based on the amount of public land the district owns, and could use that money to pay for teacher salaries and supplies.
Presley added that if the Solar-for-Schools program hits full capacity, it would add just $1.18 to customers’ electric bills on average.
“Anybody that wants to characterize this as some train-off-the-track Green New Deal, willy-nilly (rule), that is a factual lie,” Presley said.
On Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves took to social media to call out the PSC for expanding the self generation incentives.
“It’s a bad deal,” the governor said of the recent changes to the rule. “The PSC should slow down. If not, the legislature must reverse it.”
Asked about the governor’s criticism, Presley said that anyone opposed to the rule had 20 months since the PSC first took up the changes to make their opposition known. He added that the Public Utilities Staff, whose director is appointed by the governor, offered no objections in the public comment process.
“It’s not particularly helpful in crafting public policy for latecomers in the conversation to offer no solutions and just offer criticism,” Presley said. “Anyone who tries to paint this process as kneejerk or not methodical is not paying attention.”
The three PSC commissioners voted on the order Tuesday just as they had on the July order, with Presley and Central District Commissioner Brandon Bailey voting in favor, and Southern District Commissioner and Chairman Dane Maxwell voting against. Maxwell said that while he’s in favor of allowing customers to self-generate power, he’s against doing so at the expense of non-participating customers.
Mississippi Power and Entergy Mississippi have each echoed that point, arguing that self-generated power is uneconomical, and that expanding net metering forces the companies to pass on adoption costs to the rest of their ratepayers.
In other renewable news, the PSC announced last week the approval of a 200 megawatt solar plant in Clay County, which, once running, will have twice the capacity of the next-largest renewable facility in the state. The plant also will include 50 megawatts of battery storage.