CHEYENNE – Lawmakers narrowly rejected a pair of bills that would have overhauled the state’s net metering system – and critics argued would have effectively killed the solar industry in Wyoming – during a meeting Tuesday in Cheyenne.
Members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee rejected both bills by a 7-7 vote, meaning neither will advance to the full Legislature next year.
Net metering systems allow commercial and residential utility customers to harness their own energy through power generated on their property, with any excess production going back into the electrical grid. The energy sent back to the grid is credited to the user’s account and offsets electricity needed when a customer’s system isn’t producing energy.
One of the proposed bills would have completely repealed the state’s net metering rules. The other aimed to reduce the cost burden for those who don’t have net metering systems by requiring those who do to pay utility companies retail rates for all renewable energy produced in a billing period.
During the meeting, the committee spent several hours hearing from members of the public, and no one spoke in favor of the bills on the table. The bills’ critics argued they would kill the main financial benefit enjoyed by people who install solar units on their property.
“I’m going to have to pay retail for what I consume, and then I’m going to get wholesale for what I produced,” Cheyenne resident Ronald Rice said.
Laramie resident Mike Selmer said it was wrong to require energy producers to sell their excess power if Rocky Mountain Power was the only option as a buyer.
“To take away the individual’s right to do what they are convinced is necessary to reduce their own private carbon footprint is wrong,” Selmer said.
Selmer noted the non-repeal bill contained no binding language requiring Rocky Mountain Power to keep its rates at current levels.
“This bill is really, at the bottom line, about maintaining Rocky Mountain Power’s profit margin,” Selmer said. “It’s not about the poor people in this state. It’s not even about renewable energy.”
Hesid Brandow, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, compared the net metering system to a vegetable garden for home consumption.
“It’s basically telling the person who just produced and consumed their own vegetables that they now need to sell it to the grocery store at a lower cost,” Brandow said. “And then they’re going to have to buy back all of that produce that they’ve just provided and sold at the retail rate.”
For the second time in two weeks, a group of young Wyomingites testified before a legislative committee, as six students from the Laramie Youth Council spoke against the bills.
“We’re going to be the people who are going to inherit Wyoming’s economy,” Sam Miller said on behalf of the council. “As the statute currently stands, it’s encouraging the development of solar power in the state. However, these bills would strip away the main financial incentives of solar power and could severely limit the growth of solar energy in Wyoming.”
During consideration of the bill, legislators kept returning to a single word: fairness.
“That fairness may mean a less return on your investment if we were to get rid of these subsidies,” Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, said to one of those testifying.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said the Legislature is trying to balance the competing interests involved in a way that is meaningful and fair. But she decided to vote against the bills.
“It is clear to me that there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about how public utilities work and operate,” Nethercott said. “For that, I’m a ‘no’ vote on the bill.”
Ultimately, hours worth of opposing testimony pushed some lawmakers to vote against the bills.
“Industry and public, not one in favor of this piece of legislation,” Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said. “We don’t know how they feel about these amendments ... but just the same, that is a big digest, so with that, I’ll be a ‘no’ vote on the bill.”