By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee has set as one of its top priorities during the interim potential changes to Wyoming’s net metering rules.
Net metering is the system that allows commercial and residential utility customers to create their own energy through renewable sources on their property, and have any excess production go back into the electrical grid. That energy sent back to the grid is credited to the user’s account and offsets electricity needed when that customer’s equipment isn’t producing energy.
Currently, Wyoming sets a cap for production systems at 25 kilowatts, which is more than adequate to power an average home. But for companies looking to produce more of the electricity they use through renewable resources, the 25 kW limit could be a restraint.
House Corporations Chair Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said his goal with this interim topic is to allow Wyoming’s rules to catch up with what’s actually happening on the ground. There are already instances, including at the Wyoming Welcome Center in the northeast corner of the state, where systems are already producing more than 25 kW.
“I think the primary goal of those interested in the topic, myself included, is ensuring our net metering laws are caught up with what’s actually happening in the state of Wyoming,” Lindholm said. “And that’s not just with net metering. It’s the same with a lot of different laws.
“CBD oil is a great example of it. There was CBD oil being sold all over before it was made legal, much in the same way as it is with net metering.”
There have been a few attempts in the Legislature to remove or increase the production cap in Wyoming on net metering. The most recent attempt was during the 2019 session with House Bill 231, sponsored by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, and cosponsored by Lindholm.
HB 231 would have allowed utilities to enter into a contract with businesses or residents who wanted to install a system generating more than 25 kW. It passed out of the House by a healthy margin but failed to even be assigned to a committee in the Senate.
“I’m really happy Corporations is taking a look at it,” Yin said. “It’s really important for the progression of new power technology and new ways citizens in Wyoming can become more independent themselves.”
Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, said during the 2019 session that he didn’t believe utility companies should have to subsidize people who produce more energy than they need. Forcing a company to buy something from a consumer didn’t seem like something the Legislature should do.
Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman with Rocky Mountain Power, said that company’s goal with net metering is to ensure fairness for all customers, “(both for) those who choose to install their own generating equipment and those who do not have self generation. We work closely with policy makers and utility regulators to develop prudent and sustainable design of these policies.”
Part of the concern with allowing for higher energy production is the eventual effect it would have both on utility companies and on consumers who couldn’t invest in their own solar panels or wind turbines. With more customers going off the grid, those left relying on utility companies for their power would see their prices increase.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of HB 231, said that was a real concern in the long term for net metering when it came to payer rates.
“I’m (as) cognizant of that concern as anyone else, but we’re nowhere near hitting that point,” Zwonitzer said. “The long-term difficulties are nowhere near critical mass yet.”
He said raising the cap on production would give residents and businesses in Wyoming the flexibility they deserve to decide how they want to produce their energy.
One issue that could be affected by net metering in Wyoming is the ability to attract new business into the state. Lindholm, Zwonitzer and Yin all said there was an element of economic development in removing the cap or increasing it.
“Even some of the largest corporation in the country, like Target, they’re looking for ways to provide their own electricity,” Zwonitzer said.
Hesid Brandow, a community organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said Wyoming could miss out on being able to attract large tech companies. Many companies would look to install large solar arrays or wind turbines to help provide some, if not all, of the power for massive amounts of computer equipment.
“It’s an issue for our entire state to keep moving forward. If we’re seen as an environment that’s unfriendly to certain businesses, to the tech sector, and not leaders in energy, we could lose out,” Brandow said. “With the slowing demand for coal, we risk becoming obsolete.
“It’s important to be innovative, and we are a very attractive state (for renewables). We have what it takes to tackle this issue and move forward. I fully believe we will tackle it and be successful.”