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Editorial: PUC should encourage solar power
Compensate homeowners with solar panels

Dallas Morning News Editorial

Sunday, March 30, 2008

In the old world order, the relationship between power companies and their customers was pretty simple: The utility company produced the electricity; you paid for it.

But in the evolving realm of renewable energy, that one-size-fits-all arrangement doesn't suffice, particularly when it comes to solar power.

Homeowners and businesses that install solar panels now find themselves producing their own power. Some actually generate more electricity than they need, and the excess flows back into the power grid.

That's where it gets complicated. Can customers send their electric company a bill?

The Legislature took a stab at clarifying this issue last year with energy efficiency legislation that creates a process for selling excess electricity back to utilities. Now, the state's Public Utility Commission must approve rules to accompany that law.

But environmental groups and some lawmakers who helped craft the bill are worried that solar cell owners could be short-changed. The rules proposed by the commission actually shift some of the cost burden for metering electricity back to consumers. And the proposed policies don't ensure that those with solar panels will be fairly compensated for the power they produce.

Last week, the commission delayed a vote on this issue. PUC officials should use the additional time to consider how best to reflect legislators' stated goal of giving customers credits for generating electricity.

Otherwise, these rules could serve as a disincentive to investing in clean energy. Without assurances that they will be appropriately compensated for excess power, some homeowners and business owners might take a pass on solar panels.

In Texas, where urban areas are failing to meet federal pollution standards, the state can't afford to discourage anyone from going green. If the commission doesn't allow consumers to benefit from producing power, lawmakers could be forced to revisit this issue next year. In the meantime, opportunities to expand the solar industry in Texas will have been lost.

Power providers don't hesitate to charge customers for every kilowatt they use. Turnabout seems only fair.

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