Should Stealing Electricity be Legal in Minnesota, @PatGarofalo?

Let’s say that you have solar panels on your house that produce electricity. At times, you may use more electricity than you produce, so you cut a check to your power company for the difference. At other times, you may produce more than you consume, so you’ll get a check back from the power company. Either way, you settle up. That’s fair.

Another way to do things would be to carry forward any net production you’ve created as credits on your bill. This is basically an interest-free loan to your utility company, so they’re cool with that. Pat Garofalo’s energy bill includes language that allows for interest free loans from rate payers to utility companies:

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But, it doesn’t stop there. Just look at this:

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Legalized theft.

What’s also interesting is that the theft of rate payer’s energy generation credits isn’t unique to Minnesota. Similar language is popping up in bills around the country, including this one in Montana:

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If, at the end of the year, I told Xcel, “Looks like I owe you $20. I’m going to cancel that with no additional compensation.” they’d shut my power off. Legalizing the inverse of that is legalized theft of energy producers’ electricity.

I can understand why utility companies that fund and write example legislation for ALEC members would find this valuable. Free electricity is a great deal if you can convince state legislators to make stealing legal.

This is just one example of the language inserted into Pat Garofalo’s energy bill guts clean energy programs in Minnesota. If you legalize theft of energy production from residential solar producers, you reduce the incentive to install panels. That’s a good thing if you’re in the pollution business, but not good for asthmatics, environmentalists, and local small business owners who benefit from increasing our ratio of energy generated from clean sources.

9 thoughts on “Should Stealing Electricity be Legal in Minnesota, @PatGarofalo?”

  1. Calendar year… so just after December the month with the least amount of solar energy hitting the northern hemisphere; and just before the months when people consume the most energy for heating their homes…

    Seems like a real deal for the power companies, would be a little better if they could stop it at say August.

  2. Thanks for highlighting this! Kind of amazed I haven’t seen it anywhere else, yet. They want to kill off the conservation improvement program (CIP, the gig where utilties offer rebates for efficiency), and all solar incentives as well. And CO2 targets are stricken, replaced with a goal of “cheap.”

    But Pat drives a Tesla, so he’s cool with rebates for EVs, so that’s in there. (I’m actually glad to see that, but more EVs on the road is only the right direction if our grid supply gets cleaner).

    To Jon – it doesn’t matter which month you choose to steal the excess. They steal whatever is left over at the end of a 12 month period. It includes the “good” and “bad” months regardless.

  3. A small residential installation would be unlikely to keep up with a homeowner’s needs during Oct, Nov and Dec, so in practice, the lack of a carry-forward probably does not amount to much money (if any). However, it’s the principle of the thing and utilities certainly have the accounting capabilities to handle debits and credits across a fiscal year-end. Garafalo proves once again that he’s one of our dimmer bulbs.

  4. David –
    While it’s true that winter months have less output, that’s kind of irrelevant to the legislation as far as I can tell. It’s really just a factor of how large the array is, and the home’s annual use. If it’s big enough to make more than used, the utilities win, and the homeowner loses. It’s not at all out of the realm of possibility; my small 2.7kW array (12 2010-era panels) produced 65% of my home’s usage last year. Other years have been as high as 78%.

    As for Garofalo being a dim bulb, I don’t think so – I think he knows exactly what he’s doing, and what he wants out of this. 🙂

  5. Eric –

    What do you think Garfalo wants out of the proposed bill? It’s anti-consumer and anti-environment. Is he the recipient of larger than normal campaign contributions from the utility industry?

    As for the dim bulb bulb comment, that impression was formed during the Vikings stadium debate and from following him on Twitter for a short time.

  6. David –
    Well, ok, I don’t actually know his motivations, or whether or not he’s a dim bulb in general. 🙂
    He’s the state ALEC chair for Minnesota (http://www.alec.org/about-alec/state-chairmen/) and they have been trying to weaken net metering laws all over the US:

    THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the American Legislative Exchange Council encourages state policymakers to recognize the value the electric grid delivers to all and to:

    1. Update net metering policies to require that everyone who uses the grid helps pay to maintain it and to keep it operating reliably at all times;
    2. Create a fixed grid charge or other rate mechanisms that recover grid costs from DG systems to ensure that costs are transparent to the customer; and
    3. Ensure electric rates are fair and affordable for all customers and that all customers have safe and reliable electricity.

    This and other legislation (encouraging electric vehicles through state rebates) seem to have a lot to do with ensuring that the electric utilities are doing well. My point about him “knowing what he wants out of this” just meant that I don’t think he “accidentally” proposed a law which would discourage large residential solar by confiscating net generation; IOWS, I’m fairly sure that’s a feature, not a bug.

  7. Eric – Thank you for the additional information. I remember Mary Jo as a state-level ALEC chair, but I didn’t know Pat is the new chair (or a co-chair).

    Perhaps I’m only seeing a partial corporate membership list on Wikipedia, but ALEC doesn’t seem utility-heavy, so I don’t understand the aversion to solar. Some utilities recognize that things are changing but perhaps not the ones that belong to ALEC (and it’s possible Peabody Coal has a lot of influence). Whatever the case, Arizona’s utilities are definitely not friendly to solar, which is ironic and sad because with a forward-looking PUC and like-minded local/regional utility execs, it could be a residential solar showplace instead of a backwater.

  8. Perhaps it’s not just utility membership, although there does seem to be evidence of funding from that sector (Edison Electric Institute, apparently?), it may be broader desire to just keep electricity generation dumb & cheap, because that’s good for business at large. There’s also model legislation removing renewable energy mandates; at least MN hasn’t gone that far yet:

    Summary: The Electricity Freedom Act repeals the State of {insert state}’s requirement that electric distribution utilities and electric services companies provide _____ percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by ____.

    I imagine it’s a combination of cost concerns, and protecting old businesses.

    Regarding net metering, I think there probably is a reasonable discussion to be had about proper ratesetting, and even the role of utilities, as solar penetration really takes off, but paying $0.00 for net solar energy doesn’t seem to be a thoughtful approach.

    (Side note, Arizona’s hostility to solar spawned http://dontkillsolar.com/tusk/ – ostensibly a conservative push-back against utilities…)

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