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Solar panels law discussed in Boston

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Friends of Solar bending McCoy’s ear on HB 227

By Randy Patrick

Boston Food Mart may seem like an unusual place for men in worn blue jeans and work boots to be talking about solar panels, but that was what was on the menu for Coffee with Chad Saturday.

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State Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, was surrounded by a mostly male crowd, many of them fellow politicians, as he talked about what was on the minds of many of his constituents.

“You know what I’m hearing the most about — which is crazy — is the net metering bill,” McCoy said. “You would think that we’re changing the income tax. I’m getting hundreds of letters a day, and everybody’s against … changing it.”

McCoy explained that House Bill 227 only affects the miniscule portion of the population who have solar energy panels for their homes. Utility companies are required to buy back their excess kilowatts at full retail price.

“The power company doesn’t like it because they could have bought it from the coal plant at wholesale price. But if you sit down and do the math, it doesn’t really hurt them. It’s a zero sum game for them,” he said.

And the state’s few solar panels generate less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the electricity, so it isn’t a threat — for now. But the power companies are looking to the future.

“The fear is that if we don’t fix this issue now, then in 50 years, the power companies are going to be out of business, so they’re pushing it across the United States,” he said, for governments to change the rules on net metering.

The utilities’ argument is that the solar panel homeowners aren’t paying anything to help maintain the lines, but McCoy thinks they’re going too far.

“They’re trying to get it all the way down to the wholesale price, which would give you no incentive as a consumer” to have solar panels, he said.

Already, it takes years to see a return on the investment.

“You’re doing it because you want to help the environment, not because it will eventually save you money,” McCoy said. “But Tesla is putting their solar panels and batteries at Home Depot, so that may change real quick.”

McCoy said there are some amendments to the bill that are being proposed which he might support.

“Maybe the solar panel may have to pay a little bit toward line maintenance based on how much they’re kicking back into the system. I think we can get to somewhere,” he said.

During the discussion, one of his guests asked him how much of one’s utility bill goes toward line maintenance — something he didn’t know. Another pointed out with interest that he had noticed a large solar farm Touchstone Energy Cooperatives are building on Interstate 64 near Winchester. Salt River Energy in Bardstown is part of that project.

Constituents also discussed other issues, such as a worker’s compensation proposal that Todd Harper, a Republican candidate for sheriff, called “a horrible bill” and one that McCoy said he was against.

Other GOP candidates who were at the country store and diner were Chris Middleton, who is also running for sheriff, who brought his wife and two of their children, and candidates for magistrate Trey Bradley, Phillip Bischoff and Selvey Vittitoe.

One issue that hasn’t gotten a great deal of attention in Frankfort, McCoy said, is the recent deadly mass shootings at high schools in Kentucky and Florida and solutions to the problem, including possible gun control bills and school safety policies.

“We have discussed it publicly from a humanitarian standpoint and the tragedies that have occurred, but as far as looking at legislative solutions, candidly, we are focusing on pensions, and we hope to start to spend the rest of this session getting that fixed and getting the budget done,” he said.

The weekend coffee klatches are a way to let constituents discuss their concerns with their state representative. They are a carryover from McCoy’s predecessor, Rep, Dave Floyd, who was also at the event in Boston.

McCoy says he will hold one more this session, in New Haven.