The US Senate has scrapped a retroactive net metering protection provision while passing a long-awaited energy bill as a bipartisan measure drafted to modernize the nation’s oil, gas and electricity systems and align them with more climate-friendly solutions.
S.2012 – Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016
As reported by PV-Tech, the US Senate bill was approved 85 to 12 in response this nation’s “…ever-transforming energy landscape.”
“The bill promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. As might be expected, the bill includes certain provisions that could prove useful for solar. Notably however, a proposed amendment that would protect against retroactive solar net-metering was not included in the final writing of the bill.”
According to a summary from GovTrack.US, the bill would create or improve several programs designed to increase energy efficiency in buildings, require significant upgrades to the electrical grid including large-scale storage systems for electricity, expedite liquid natural gas exports, loosen permitting rules for construction of natural gas pipelines on federal lands, provide subsidies for hydropower and geothermal, and permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Last February, US senators Angus King and Harry Reid introduced an amendment aimed at protecting rooftop solar customers by limiting state utilities and agencies from retroactively changing net-metering rates for existing customers. However, the amendment — viewed as modest by many — was ultimately eliminated from the final bill.
A net-metering related provision that did make the bill now requires the US Department of Energy to conduct a study on net-metering and release related guidance to ensure that owners of distributed energy resources are adequately compensated for the energy they add to the grid.
On the positive side, the bill significantly promotes renewable energy requiring operators of the grid to upgrade the system, with a focus on large-scale storage systems for electricity to better accommodate wind and solar. The bill has received mixed reception, as in addition to its energy efficiency and renewable provisions, it also offers support to the fossil fuel industry – causing some to deem it a counterproductive measure.
Despite its urges to adopt the omitted King-Reid amendment falling on deaf ears, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has been positive about the passing of the Energy Modernization Act.
“This legislation contains several notable wins for solar energy,” said Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs for SEIA. “Chief among them are the inclusion of solar heating and cooling as technologies that can meet the federal government’s renewable portfolio standard, language directing the Energy Department to identify appropriate costs and benefits for the valuation of distributed generation solar, provisions to improve permitting of solar power plants sited on federal lands, and directing the Energy Department to study avian populations and to establish baseline scientific information.”
Opposition to the bill
The four senators to vote against the bill in committee were Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Several environmental groups including the Sierra Club wrote in opposing the legislation, “Several provisions in this bill … we believe could cause detrimental effects to public health and our environment. For example, there is no need to exempt hydropower facilities from regulations that have worked for a century. Some provisions could also have unintended severe consequences for EPA public health protections. We are also troubled by the lack of clean energy investments made by a bill that claims to modernize our energy policy.”
The bill now awaits final consideration by the US House of Representatives before finalization.
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