House Bill 227 deals with solar panels, but the measure has become a lightning rod in recent weeks – with utility companies arguing it evens the playing field and solar suppliers predicting disaster for their industry.
Should the bill survive in its current form, solar customers would receive less than half the credit they currently receive for excess energy they produce and sell back to utility companies.
Lexington Democrat Kelly Flood said the adjustment deals a serious blow to an alternative energy industry that's only got a "toe hold in" on the market in the commonwealth, especially in depressed coal communities in Eastern Kentucky.
"We're bringing a sledgehammer to this diversifying economy at a time too when the state is proud of having an economy based on energy and wanting to be for our millennials a vision of hope that we know how to transform ourselves and not stay stuck in the last century," she cautioned in explaining her "no" vote.
Yet supporters couch the issue in terms of fairness, noting solar customers receive the dollar-for-dollar retail value of the energy they produce while utility companies absorb the cost for transmission lines and maintenance. Dry Ridge Republican Brian Linder said that arrangement amounts to a subsidy for solar customers, many of whom live in Kentucky’s wealthier urban areas.
"It takes over $20,000 to install solar and my middle class people in my district can't afford that and they end up subsidizing, because of this, the people in Lexington and Louisville," Linder said.
The bill sailed through comfortably on a 14-4 vote with two pass votes and one abstention. But several members added they would like to see further debate and amendments on the House floor.