News & Updates
How can I make my voice heard about solar power in Mississippi?
There are two avenues to voice your support. The first is through the Mississippi Public Service Commission. The Mississippi Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications, electric, gas water and sewer utilities. The agency is charged with assuring that rates and charges for services are just and reasonable, that the service rendered is reasonably adequate, and that any facilities constructed or acquired are required for the convenience and necessity of the public. Additionally, the agency exercises safety jurisdiction over gas pipelines and has area jurisdiction over all public utilities. In carrying out its responsibilities, the commission answers complaints, makes investigation and conducts both formal and informal hearings.
For example, before your Utility Company raises your rates, it has to be approved by the Public Service Commission. Their job is to protect citizens (You) from unfair practices from Utilities that serve you.
The Public Service Commission is composed of three elected officials representing North, Central and South Mississippi. They conduct both public and private hearing throughout the year. All are posted on their website. (See below).
For the past months, the public Service Commission has established a docket to investigate the development and implementation of net metering programs and standards, as stated by the following Press Release:
POSEY ORDERS INVESTIGATIVE STUDY ON NET METERING IMPACT
Jackson, MS (4/1/14)------Today, Central District Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey ordered an investigative study on the economic impact of net metering.
“Net metering is an important topic in the utility industry. The purpose of the study is to determine if net metering is in the best interest for the ratepayer and a practical option for utilities. I look forward to the results,” said Posey.
Ratepayers can stay informed by checking the Mississippi Public Service Commission website at www.psc.state.ms.us or by calling 1-800-356.6430.
If you support solar and solar incentives, such as net metering, for the State of Mississippi, the following contacts will put you in touch with the Commissioner who represents your area of the State:
- Lynn Posey - Chairman, Central District
Voice: (601) 961-5430 • Toll-Free: (800) 356-6430 • Fax: (601) 961-5824
- R. Stephen Renfroe - Vice Chairman, Southern District
Voice: (601) 961-5440 • Toll-Free: (800) 356-6429 • Fax: (601) 961-5842
- Brandon Presley - Commissioner, Northern District
Voice: (601) 961-5450 • Toll-Free: (800) 356-6428 • Fax: (601) 961-5476
Nettleton Direct: (662) 963-1471 • Nettleton Toll Free: (800) 637-7722
- Another avenue is through your Legislators. There were two bills introduced into the 2014 Legislative Session, HB1378 and HB354. Both of these bills offered incentives to homeowners who wished to install solar. Both of these bills died in Committee without discussion. With all this attention on net metering and Solar incentives, now may be the best opportunity to make your voice heard. They not only want your opinion, but need your (the public’s opinion) in order to make sound policy decisions.
Fear of Change and a Non-Entrepreneurial Spirit
HB-0354, HB-1378, HB-1542, SB-2914 – What do they all have in common?
- They are all bills introduced during the 2014 legislative session aimed at accelerating renewable energy generation and usage in the state of Mississippi.
- They all died in committee without a vote, three in the House Ways & Means Committee and one in the Senate Finance Committee. No documented attempt to combine, modify and send forward; only a brief statement saying something like “02/26 (H) Died In Committee”
For at least three years, individual MS legislators and their fellow members have been attempting to get legislation passed to encourage the growth of a new energy sector in the state. The puzzling question for many MS citizens is “Why can’t they at least bring it to the floor and let the men and women who represent us vote on it? Are there hidden forces at work, applying pressure? Does the legislature or its leaders not wish to see MS move forward in the arena of renewable energy? Do they think MS is not ready for this type of progressive action?”
Since the everyday citizen of MS cannot access the inner workings of these committees or offer real-time feedback on the issue, we may never know the answer. Perhaps they believe the technology is ‘too new’. However, since the technology is now 30 years old, most people would not accept that as an intelligent reason to delay. The federal government and TVA do not think that is a valid reason for not moving forward, both on the commercial and residential front.
Perhaps they would use the excuse of “It would cause too much confusion for the Utilities because there is no standard interconnect format/requirement.” This is probably a valid statement due to the patchwork of utilities and co-operatives that cover the state. However, with IEEE and NEC guidelines to lead them, this could probably be solved in about a month. All it would take is for the Engineering Leaders of each group to sit down at a table and map it out. Once again, the federal government and TVA do not think that is a valid reason for not moving forward, both on the commercial and residential front.
It is possible they may have decided that the technology is still too expensive for the majority of people in the state and the payback is still too slow. I would hope this is not the case as value is in the eye of the individual and payback is a matter of personal risk acceptance, NPV and IRR. For example, well-designed solar systems can now be installed for as low as $3-$4 per watt and have payback windows as narrow as 7.5 to 8 years, with potential IRR’s of 6 to 9%. Given design lives of 20-30 years, theses number are worth evaluating.
Perhaps it is fear of collapsing the utility industry’s profit margins due to increased utilization of renewable energies like PV-Solar and Solar-thermal. With the age of our grids and our risks of wide-spread severe weather events, I can see where this may concern some people. However with populations continuing to grow and energy requirements continuing to grow, surely this is not the case. Otherwise, why would many experts be predicting an average increase in electricity costs of 3% to 3.5% every year for the foreseeable future?
There is no discussion about the potential for new jobs and small business growth in the state as a result of this action. There is no discussion about the reduced dependence on fossil fuels (although small in the beginning, but growing) as a result of this action. There is no discussion about peak energy relief during the hottest and coldest times of the year. Or perhaps the discussions are taking place outside the chamber walls and fear of change is preventing discussion on the public record.
Are there pitfalls in trying to design and implement strategies/incentives for moving a new industry forward without causing a “net detrimental effect” on a state and its taxpayers? I’m sure there are but that’s why open, respectful and intelligent discussion, along with new ideas, is needed. This has apparently not been a problem with many other states and the federal government. To borrow from and paraphrase Henry Ford: “Whether you believe you will fail or believe you will succeed, you are probably right.” Or (unknown) “the only true failure is the failure to act.” Or (unknown) “you can’t win if you don’t play.” They all fit our legislature in this situation. These are just the thoughts of a common, everyday citizen of the great state of Mississippi.
John E. Bailey, Jr.
by Henry Chiang
By now, the news that Oklahoma is destroying solar with a new tax has enraged many across the states. But like the title of this article states, the anger of the many pro-renewables and those who simply think solar is a good idea is misplaced. Note that this is not an article about the morality of subsidies, nor their impact on the industry. Instead, how this bill addresses a critical issue of the coexistence of distributed energy and retail electric companies: the grid.
SB 1456, the bill, signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin after unanimous passage of the senate and only 5 nays in the house, deals with more of an operation fee for grid tied systems. In fact the final bill text never even mentions solar, having been amended early on in committee. The bill creates an upper limit “retail electric suppliers” can charge customers connected to the grid, defined by the cost of operation & maintenance of the grid infrastructure. This upper limit is to apply to all grid tied customers, regardless if they are generating their own power and or even selling their power back using net-metering.
In plain english: It costs money to maintain the grid, and utilities must charge everyone connected to it the same price. If you’re not connected to the grid, you don’t pay the fee. Energy generation and grid maintenance are two separate costs, and one of the main reasons we have utilities to begin with.
Why is this important? The reason is two fold. First, the upper limit is now to be decided by the Oklahoma Public Commission (OPC), and second, it increases fairness for all parties involved. If you read the bill here, you’ll notice it is very “simple” and does not mention a hard value. This is because now that the bill passed, the actual cost of maintenance as distributed to all customers attached to the grid must be determined in a court-like hearing by the OPC. Setting up an upper limit ensures fairness to both utilities and homeowners. It is reasonable that homeowners who are producing their own energy but are still connected to the grid contribute to maintaining the infrastructure. Utilities also cannot abuse homeowners producing their own energy by applying extra fees related to grid maintenance, such as extra meter reading charges or unreasonably high tariffs
How does this affect Mississippi? Many in the existing utilities industry still view solar and renewables as a threat to their own business. When there are examples such as Germany’s utilities making talk of leaving the country, it’s easy to see that their fear is not unfounded. What is critical then is for everyone to realize that residential and commercial solar in the form of distributed energy generation can be very helpful to utility companies as well as homeowners through reduction of peak energy demand and load side generation. By assuring the utility companies that their overhead costs of maintaining the grid and the power lines will be protected, the relationship between homeowners who are willing (and even able) to generate some or all of their power could definitely improve.
In short, the Oklahoma solar “tax” law, while it reduces the payback of solar slightly, is actually a fair regulation. It ensures that the energy infrastructure maintenance is paid for, and provides consumer and providers of electricity some needed security and balance. This is something that Mississippi, and many other states, could benefit greatly from.