Midwest Energy News – February 8, 2017
By John Farrell & Karlee Weinmann
A plan floated by Minnesota lawmakers to exempt rural electric cooperatives from virtually all regulatory oversight would allow these utilities to restrict development of local solar power, even where their member-owners support renewable energy.
Legislation introduced last month and working its way through the state’s House (HF234) and Senate (SF141) would put co-op boards themselves, rather than the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in charge of resolving customer disputes over rates and other policies. Disguised as “local control,” the measure undermines the objective role of the Commission as a mediator between cooperatives and their members.
Co-ops provide electricity across greater Minnesota, and have in recent years come under fire as sharp opponents of distributed solar generation. Customer have complained about outsize fees for having rooftop solar – sometimes masked as other charges, like for a new meter. In 2015, co-ops successfully pushed a state law allowing them to impose higher fees on distributed solar systems 40 kilowatts or smaller. The Public Utilities Commission already opened a probe into whether the fees were justified based on the actual costs to serve a customer who has solar panels, or a backhanded method to recover lost sales.