Panel says utilities can pay less for customers’ solar power

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BERLIN – APRIL 01: A detail of photovoltaic cells which cover the 426 square metre on the 70 m high southern facade of an apartment house are pictured on April 01, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. The photovoltaic cells replace the conventional facade slabs and produce around 25.000 kWh of solar-generated electricity a year which is fed into the public grid and then set off against the energy consumption of the twin towers. This helps to reduce the operating costs charged to residents. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana regulatory board voted Wednesday to lower the price utility companies must pay for electricity generated by people with solar panels on their homes.

During sunny hours, solar panels sometimes make more electricity than a home uses. The excess flows back to the power company grid and homeowners are compensated.

The Advocate reports that the Public Service Commission voted 3-2 for rules allowing investor-owned utilities to pay less than retail rates to people who install new solar panels, beginning next year. Owners of solar systems installed this year or earlier are grandfathered in to the old rules, keeping the current rate structure for 15 years.

The changes don’t affect New Orleans, where utilities are regulated by the City Council.

Solar advocates opposed the changes, saying the new rules would reduce the value of electricity home solar systems push to the grid by about 66 percent. The Advocate reported that only one of about 50 witnesses spoke in favor of the new rules.

Utility companies argued that current rules meant all customers paid more for the electricity they consume, while only a small percentage of customers have solar panels.

Voting for the new rules were PSC Chairman Mike Francis, R-Crowley; Commissioners Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge; and Eric Skrmetta, R-Metairie.

Voting to keep the current rules and pricing scheme were PSC Commissioners Lambert Boissiere, D-New Orleans; and Foster Campbell, D-Bossier Parish.

“This rule conserves the things important to solar customers and provides a path to long term viability for residential solar in Louisiana,” Greene said in a news release.

A trade group representing solar companies bashed the vote.

“Today’s vote was a job killer and an insult to the people of our state. Instead of moving Louisiana forward, the Public Service Commission — fueled by the utility companies — moved Louisiana backward,” the Gulf States Renewable Energy Industries Association said in a news release.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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