An Allegheny County solar developer is challenging the state Public Utility Commission’s authority to adopt new alternative energy regulations in a complaint filed this week in Commonwealth Court.
David Hommrich of Green Tree, who is representing himself in the case, wants the court to declare that the agency has no authority to put limits on a clean energy incentive granted by the Legislature in 2007.
The PUC’s regulations, which took effect on Nov. 19, narrow the kinds of alternative energy projects that qualify for net metering — a policy in which owners of solar panels and other renewable energy systems are paid retail rates when they produce more electricity than they use and send it back to the grid.
Mr. Hommrich said the new rules would strangle his plans for three, 3-megawatt solar projects he intends to build between now and 2019.
“If I could shake the hand of every legislator I would, because they really did an outstanding job with our AEPS Act,” he said, using an acronym for the 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act and its subsequent amendments, which were designed to encourage the production and use of renewable energy in Pennsylvania. “We just need the PUC to get out of the way.”
PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said, “Throughout the last several years of discussion about alternative energy portfolio standards, the goal emphasized by the PUC has been to balance efforts to promote the development of renewable power generation with important consumer protections.”
The PUC revised its drafts of the rules several times to drop controversial caps on the size of new net-metered energy systems, like rooftop solar panels and manure-management systems on farms. It also rewrote its definition of the word “utility” to make clearer that it did not intend to prohibit all net metering.
But the rules still contain “multiple sections that seek to control or constrain which customers are eligible for net metering,” Mr. Hommrich said in his complaint, including provisions that disqualify alternative energy projects from net metering if they are designed to generate power for sale.
Citing a recent Commonwealth Court opinion in a case involving Sunrise Energy, a solar power company that Mr. Hommrich leads, Mr. Hommrich said that the PUC does not have the authority to determine who is eligible for net metering. Regardless, the PUC’s new rules “are specifically designed to do just that,” he said.
Mr. Hommrich is asking the court to put a temporary hold on the challenged sections of the rules to prevent the PUC from enforcing them while the case is pending. He is also seeking declarations that his projects qualify for net metering and that the new rules do not apply to existing systems that were eligible for net metering before the regulations changed.
Alternative energy sources that may have a lesser impact on our environment should be encouraged. I’m not sure any taxpayer-funded programs were meant to force regulated utilities to buy from wholesalers – large or small – at retail prices. This is contrary to the purpose of he PUC-regulated utility that is required to purchase its supplies in a prudent manner, protecting ratepayers from unnatural high prices.
It would seem that alternative energy can be competitive with other forms and play in a level and transparent wholesale market. The ratepayers would continue to be protected; and the traditional wholesalers and new entrants would be on even ground, competing for the utility’s business.
Could this work?