The West Virginia Senate approved a bill Thursday designed to encourage retail customer investment in solar energy by exempting solar power purchase agreements from the state Public Service Commission’s jurisdiction.
In a 33-1 vote, the Senate signed off with little discussion on an amended version of House Bill 3310, which specifies that solar energy facilities located on and designed to meet only the electrical needs of the premises of a retail electric customer do not constitute a public service, nor is the output subject to a power purchase agreement with the retail electric customer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee made minor changes to the bill, which accordingly now goes before the House of Delegates for concurrence.
Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, recalled on the Senate floor prior to the bill’s passage Thursday that he had cosponsored a similar bill previously and that the Senate’s approval of the legislation was “a long time coming.”
“It’s good to see that it finally crossed the line,” Lindsay said.
Under a power purchase agreement, a developer arranges designing, permitting, financing and installing a solar energy system on a customer’s property at little or no cost.
The customer buys the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period at a fixed rate, usually lower than the local utility’s retail rate, while the solar services provider gains tax credits and income from electricity sales.
The Judiciary Committee advanced the bill Monday after inserting an amendment to add a provision that the agreements must be written in 11-point font or larger so that there’s no print too fine.
Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, vice chair of the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee who objected to the possibility that federal subsidies could be involved in the development of solar panels to be installed per permitted power purchase agreements during Judiciary Committee consideration of the bill Monday, cast the lone vote against the bill three days later.
The bill has no tax credit provisions and does not provide any state subsidies — something that Delegate Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, chairperson of the House Judiciary Committee in which the bill originated on March 26, stressed on the House floor last week as he urged passage of the bill.
Public Service Commission Chairperson Charlotte Lane told the committee her agency supports the bill, which the House of Delegates in an 83-16 vote last week.
The bill’s exemption of power purchase agreements from state Public Service Commission jurisdiction would be conditional, with one condition being that the aggregate of all power purchase agreements and net metering arrangements for any utility not exceed a cap of 3% of the utility’s aggregate customer peak demand in the state during the previous year.
That cap already exists for net metering, which allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to sell the electricity they don’t use back into the grid.
Another condition sets individual customer onsite generator limits so that solar energy facilities meet only the electrical needs of the retail electric customer’s premises, not to exceed 25 kilowatts for residential customers, 500 kilowatts for commercial customers and 2,000 kilowatts for industrial customers.
HB 3310 did not meet resistance from Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, whose vice president of regulatory and finance, John Scalzo, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bill addresses the challenge of fixed costs shifting from one class of customers to another as those in power purchase agreements go back and forth between paying their electric utilities and not paying depending on whether their solar panels are producing electricity at a given time.
Autumn Long, regional field director for Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit dedicated to solar education and advocacy, endorsed HB 3310 to the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.