/Can rooftop solar expand in Mississippi

Can rooftop solar expand in Mississippi

The Public Service Commission will hold its final hearing to update Mississippi’s net-metering rule. This system allows homeowners to generate solar power from their homes and get credits from their utilities for any electricity left over. Mississippi became the 46th state in 2015 to implement net metering. According to their latest counts, Mississippi Power and Entergy Mississippi combined have approximately 300 net metering participants, which is less than one in every thousand customers. Mississippi is the second-most populous state with net metering laws. Net metering allows for another route to clean energy beyond what utilities produce. This helps reduce emissions while easing the state’s power grid. Advocates also highlight the economic benefits. A state with more friendly policies will attract a growing solar industry to the state and other companies looking to offset their emissions. The utility companies see the idea as less practical, particularly in the short-term. Home solar panels can cost thousands of dollars. To encourage homeowners to take part, the utility must reimburse them at a rate that is affordable. They claim that high reimbursement rates mean that customers contribute less to maintaining the power grid and that the utility gets shifted those costs to other customers. “We support a customer’s right to self-supply, but it must be done fairly, responsibly, said Jeremy Vanderloo. “That’s the real issue of disagreement. How much should we pay power that’s non-economic, in order to build an industry in this State that only benefits a relatively few of our customers?” 39 states and Washington, D.C. have net metering rules that require utilities pay customers at the retail rate. Mississippi is one of six states that have rules that do not. According to one policy expert, raising the credit rate is key to increasing Mississippi’s low participation. Autumn Proudlove (senior policy program director, NC Clean Energy Technology Center) stated that making the retail rate higher would likely increase participation. She pointed out that Mississippi was late to the party due to both affordability and utility influence. “I would say one factor tends to be the very large, powerful, vertically-integrated utilities, sometimes they have outsized influence in policies, so that could be one reason,” Proudlove said. On the other hand, there was no pressure on policy makers or utilities to adopt policies if there wasn’t customer demand. Entergy Mississippi and Mississippi Power are both vertically integrated utilities. This means that they own the power to deliver electricity to their respective areas. The PSC determines the maximum electricity prices they can charge. Louie Miller, director at Sierra Club Mississippi, stated that utilities don’t have an interest in expanding the program. More self-suppliers mean less money for power companies from electricity bills. Miller stated that the utilities view it as a threat and a threat to their business model. Miller stated that their interest is in maintaining their monopoly on the energy sector and their stranglehold over it. Different studies support each side. A 2019 Acadian Consulting Group sponsored study by the PSC supports a credit rate similar Mississippi’s current rule. An analysis by the Brookings Institution from 2016 suggests that net metering leads to lower rates for ratepayers. The PSC released its January update. It proposed that utilities would not increase the overall credit rates, but offer $3,000 rebates to some homes, and a higher rate of credit for those who are below 250% poverty level. Proudlove, a policy expert, stated that Mississippi’s policy was comparable to other states’, except for the low credit rate. However, most states do not offer an incentive for customers with low incomes. These rebates and incentives are often reduced by the state Legislature, she said. However, she noted that utilities sometimes impose fixed monthly fees that discourage rooftop solar. According to one filing, Mississippi Power’s $27 per month fixed charge is the highest among investor-owned utilities in the country. The company declined to be interviewed for this story. Miller acknowledged the PSC’s low-income incentives, but said that they would not have much impact due to the high cost of solar panels. Average solar panel installations cost upwards to $10,000. He argued that the proposed changes are not sufficient to encourage more rooftop solar in the state. Miller stated that the PSC must remove some of the strangleholds and impediments that utilities have placed on it if they want to (expandnet metering). It’s just like any other industry. You have to give it the oxygen and incentives it needs to grow. It’s a market we know works.” Before deciding on the final policy, the PSC will hear final comments from the March 1 hearing.