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Public Service Commission Wrestles with Solar Power Rates

S. Lincoln

State lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates talked a lot about solar energy credits this past year, and now the Louisiana Public Service Commission is wrangling with solar energy issues of its own.

“Should people who have solar power on their homes, when they produce electricity and they maybe produce more than they need, should they be able to sell that at full retail price?” Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell sums up the current controversy.

Late in November, Entergy advised the PSC that, effective January 1st, people installing new solar panels will get less than half the retail rate for power they sell back to the utility. Known as “net-metering”, Demco quit taking applications for solar power buybacks in July.

“The biggest opponents of solar power are the people who sell electricity,” Campbell says. “They want to sell you all the electricity.”

The PSC has a rule requiring retail rates be paid for power buybacks, but only till the alternatively-generated electricity reaches one half of one percent (0.5%) of the power company’s total output. 45 other states have larger caps in place.

“Louisiana really needs to step up a little bit in order to join the norm,” says PSC member Lambert Bossiere.

Earlier this year, the PSC commissioned a study by Dr. David Dismukes of the LSU Center for Energy Studies, to look at the economics of raising the cap.

Campbell says the report was “completely non-objective,” adding, “He works for big oil.”

While Dismukes did the study under the banner of his private consulting firm, it is certainly true that, as director of the LSU Center for Energy Studies, Dismukes’ advisory board is almost exclusively made up of representatives of the oil and gas industry, as well as electric utility executives.  

The report included calculations showing the state’s solar energy tax credit, which is claimed individually on income tax returns, as a “cost” to utility companies. The PSC is now split over the report’s validity.

Boissiere says, “We may be creating a technical conference where we bring in all the parties, all the issues, listen to the public, bring in the commissioners and really study the issue to see what’s the best decision for the people of Louisiana.”

The PSC will discuss this more at their January 26th meeting.