Power-grabbing legislation designed to avoid scrutiny on high fees for solar customers

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[SAINT PAUL] Yesterday, the Minnesota House of Representatives heard a bill (H.F. 234) that eliminates basic consumer protections protecting consumers’ freedom to generate their own electricity. It would also stop a neutral, expert analysis (led by the Public Utilities Commission) of why Minnesota has the nation’s highest fees on solar customers – as high as $83/month.

 

“This legislation is truly unprecedented,” said Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota. “Solar customers save money for other customers, but local utilities – munis/co-ops – continue to attack a federally protected right to generate your own electricity.”

In 2015, the state Legislature passed a law in the last hours of the session that allowed electric co-ops to charge new fees to customers who own solar, as long as they were fair and “reasonable”. As a result, some Minnesota electric co-ops are proposing to charge up to $83/month in fees for solar customers – some of the highest in the country.

“These fees, especially if left unchecked, jeopardize the economic decision that our customers have made to invest in their solar systems,” said Eric Pasi, Vice President of Innovative Power Systems. “It is a clear disincentive for others interested in choosing solar as an energy option."

At the request of co-op customers, the Public Utilities Commission is reviewing these fees to ensure they’re consistent with the law. Now, munis and co-ops are trying to stop that review process, simply to protect themselves from scrutiny. It’s a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse – if co-ops/munis design and run the only dispute resolution opportunities for customers, the legislature will remove basic safeguards that protect consumers’ freedom to generate their own electricity.

Solar customers save money for other customers – they offset expensive electricity investments that the munis/co-ops would otherwise need to make. This legislation will impact the growth of the solar industry, especially in Greater Minnesota.

“No question, this will have impacts on the growth of the solar industry and pace of investments being made in Greater Minnesota,” said Micah Johnson, Operations Manager of Solar Connections in Rochester. “As currently written, this bill will cause us to eliminate some jobs at our company. It will have a negative impact on our economy. When we produce local renewable energy, that savings gets reinvested into the local economy.”