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Conservation groups critical of solar plan for Texas

March 26, 2008


AUSTIN — Proposed regulations relating to the installation of renewable-energy-producing devices at homes and businesses could stymie the development of solar power in Texas, a coalition of conservation groups are warning.

The regulations — some of which are up for consideration by the Texas Public Utility Commission today, and some later in the year — would establish broad guidelines for how the state’s deregulated electric market treats consumers and businesses that invest in solar panels, small windmills or related devices.

A coalition of conservation groups complained Tuesday that the rules would require the acquisition of expensive redundant meters for those who invest in solar panels and hope to be compensated for the excess electricity that would potentially flow back into the state’s power grid.

Preliminary rules also leave open the possibility that those who generate power through solar panels or small windmills would not be compensated properly — or at all — according to the conservation groups.

"These rules protect the utility companies by shifting all the cost of solar power to the customers while giving consumers none of the benefits," said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The three-member PUC is set to consider some of the regulations today. The second set of regulations, which would govern a broad set of related issues, remains in preliminary form and won’t go before the PUC for weeks.

All the proposed regulations relate to House Bill 3693, an energy efficiency bill authored by state Rep. Joe Strauss, R-San Antonio, during the 2007 legislative session. Reed said the preliminary rules set forth by the PUC staff do not conform to the spirit of the law. Strauss was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

But Steve Davis, president of the Alliance for Retail Markets, said the electric company umbrella group supports the staff’s proposed regulations as they relate to the installation of meters for so-called distributive renewable generation, such as rooftop solar panels.

Under HB 3693, "an electric utility shall make available ... separate meters that measure the load and generator output, or a single meter capable of measuring inflow and outflow." The law also states that “the distributed renewable generation owner must pay the differential cost of the metering, unless the meters are provided at no additional cost.”

Davis said it’s important to have a method that measures the influx of power into a home or business and another that measures power that potentially flows from solar panels, windmills, or other renewable-energy sources.

Davis noted that the value of the energy flowing in to a home or business and the value of the energy flowing out can be different — depending on factors such as the time of day when the power is produced. That’s why it’s not enough to have a meter that moves both backward and forward, he said.

"The value of the energy that comes in and the value of the energy that comes out are not always one in the same," he said. "We have to be sure that we’re getting compensated [properly] for our energy that is consumed on the premises."

He said his organization had not yet formulated positions on others aspects of the pending rules.

Chris Schein, a spokesman for Oncor, which operates the North Texas transmission system, said the company will roll out advanced meters over the next several years that can measure the net power to and from homes and businesses. He said that a separate regulation calls for customers to pay for the meters through a surcharge on bills.

House Bill 3693 calls for regulators to have the rules in place by Jan. 1, according to a PUC spokesman. R.A. Dyer reports from the Star-Telegram’s Austin bureau. 512-476-4294

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