Kyle Massey at Arkansas Business reports on the increase in Arkansans adding solar generation units on their homes and business.
More than 350 Arkansans added on-site generation systems in 2017, raising the state’s number of net-metering customers from 633 to 988, a 56 percent increase and more than double the rate seen since annual record-keeping began in 2013.
Net metering is the system that lets utilities keep track of the energy that solar customers use and send back onto the system.
The 355-system boom was mostly made up of solar arrays, with some solar-wind and wind-only systems, according to utility filings with the state Public Service Commission.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission is expected to decide a pivotal case that could determine the future of renewable energy in Arkansas for years to come. The case concerns net metering, or how Arkansans with solar systems are compensated by utilities.
Benji Hardy explained in an Arkansas Blog post last year:
Net metering is the practice of allowing power customers with on-site generation capacity — typically, rooftop solar panels — to feed electricity back into the grid when they generate more power than they can use at a given moment. Homeowners and businesses that generate excess power receive credit from their utility company at a rate equivalent to the retail rate the company charges for power.
The meter functions similar to a balance sheet. When a household consumes more power than it can generate on-site, it draws power from the grid and racks up costs like any other consumer, comparable to debits. When the household produces more power than it can consume on-site, the extra energy flows into the grid and the household is credited.
The utilities and the state attorney general’s office say that ratepayers should not receive the retail rate. They should receive less to cover the utilities’ infrastructure costs, they argue.
From Hardy’s coverage of last year’s hearing:
“Utilities are not accounting for the benefits of distributed generation … such as reduced peak load demand and the benefits of supplying energy close to energy consumption,” Chris McNamara, state coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby, said after Thursday’s meeting. “The argument from the utilities is ‘We can’t quantify that.'” That’s because the utilities’ analysis extends only to a single year, he said, rather than looking over the longer-term study that environmental groups cited in their comments to the PSC.
Like many who offered comment Thursday, Denise Marion, a justice of the peace in Garland County, spoke of the autonomy that comes with distributed generation, and the need to shift away from carbon-based fuels.
“People in Garland County and all over Arkansas … are fiercely independent and want to be able to capture the free energy that’s falling on their property. They definitely do not want the electric monopolies in Arkansas monopolize solar power,” Marion said.
“Their business model was a good one when our fuel source came from concentrated sources — coal mines, oil wells, gas fields — that require large capital to extract, transport and refine,” she said, referring to the power companies. “That is no longer the business model that we are going to see in the future. … The future is distributed power. The only thing that would hold that future back for Arkansas are regulations that would stifle the growth of solar energy.”