Beneficial Tool For Wyoming Solar Customers Sticks Around, For Now

Nov 20, 2019

Corporations Committee hears from its first public commenter
Credit Cooper McKim

A crowd lined a room in the Wyoming Liquor Division as the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee heard testimony on two bills that would affect the solar industry. After nearly four hours of impassioned speaking, both bills died on split seven to seven votes.

The bills sought to modify or remove net metering; a mechanism that allows small solar users to generate their own electricity and sell back the remainder to utilities. It's a boon for many Wyoming residents who save hundreds of dollars a year.

A report from the Office of Consumer Advocates, though, showed that benefit could eventually come at the expense of other customers and the utility itself. While not enough people are using net metering now, an explosion of users could put a strain on monthly rates. Lander Senator Cale Case fought hard for the bill.

"There are thousands and thousands of people out there that are actually providing the subsidy. It's not enough for them to worry about, but in the aggregate it's pretty serious. We have to have a fair way going forward," he argued.

One bill would have repealed net metering entirely giving utilities the choice to pay back power. The other would have significantly reduced the financial benefit to net metering customers. A crowded room of business owners, local leaders, and Wyoming residents spoke against both.

One homeowner, Ronald Rice, said either bill would be harmful to him.

"I've invested thousands of dollars thinking that the systems would actually be an asset to me and actually improve the value of my home. If this amendment is approved, those systems sitting on my property, if I get ready to sell it, are immediately a liability," Rice said.

Laramie Resident Mike Selmer said, for him, it's not about the money. It's about lessening your carbon footprint. He became frustrated during the testimony seeing the bills as an effort to discourage solar use.

"The state of Wyoming should be encouraging renewable use, instead of propping up coal. Instead of doing that, we should be spending the money to protect coal jobs, move coal jobs into new sectors," Selmer said.

After the lines ended, several committee members explained where they stood on the bill. Chairman Tyler Lindholm commended the public for speaking and was moved by the testimony.

"Industry and public, not one in favor of this piece of legislation," he said. "That is a big digest in a very short period of time. So, with that, I'll be a no vote on the bill."

Case pushed back that several individuals were in favor.

Both votes split down the middle meaning neither would move forward. Lindholm tempered the cheers in the room saying there is still a problem. While net metering will stick around, a dramatic increase of users could result in other customers shouldering a financial burden.

"This is an issue that's ongoing where we have two very different mindsets. Organizations running the line to your house, they're having to pass on some of their capability to other customers. That's a problem we're going to have to deal with in the near future. We're not yet in agreement on how to tackle that issues. It'll need to be handled," he said.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.