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The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association expressed approval of state regulators’ decision last week on solar power policy, describing an Arkansas Public Service Commission ruling “a clear economic winner in Arkansas.”
The commission, which oversees public utilities in Arkansas, dismissed proposals for rate changes that would have diminished returns for utility customers under net metering, the system that credits them for the sun power produced by solar arrays at homes, businesses, schools and farms.
“The state’s solar business leaders have created careers, produced local community investment, and generated energy savings across Arkansas,” said Katie Laning Niebaum, executive director of the industry group, which focuses on power conservation and renewable energy, among other priorities. “The commission has reaffirmed the economic benefits provided by solar technologies, setting the stage for solar energy to continue to grow in powering Arkansas’ economy.”
Niebaum’s remarks came in a statement June 4.
The AAEA was the only industry-wide voice in the four-year debate over potential changes to the state’s net-metering rules, a case known as Docket 16-027-R before the commission. The AAEA argued throughout that distributed solar generation is a “customer-financed investment and a net benefit for utilities and their customers.”
Utilities have argued that crediting solar customers at the same rate charged for retail power allows them to shift grid infrastructure and upkeep costs to other utility customers without rooftop solar.
“In response to legislative action in 2019, the Commission opened a ‘Phase 3’ in the proceeding to implement new net-metering provisions and determined unresolved issues” like the rate structure, the AAEA said in a news release. The association and Arkansas lawmakers of both parties had worked to enact the Solar Access Act of 2019, which legalized third-party financing for solar systems, increased size limits for commercial and industrial projects, and opened up solar possibilities for non-taxed entities like schools, nonprofits, counties, cities and water districts.
The AAEA said utilities proposed rate changes that would have hit small residential and business solar customers hardest. The commission instead “reaffirmed traditional net metering as the default in Arkansas,” the association said. The commission left open the possibility of utilities proposing alternate rates for customers investing in solar facilities starting in 2023.
“The commission also provided a mechanism for utility companies to propose grid charges for some solar customers,” the AAEA release said. “Again, such charge proposals must be reviewed in yet another regulatory proceeding.”