Edison Electric Institute Declines to Support Petition Seeking Federal Overturn of Net Metering

The Edison Electric Institute has battled against solar net-metering policies for years. But on Thursday the primary industry group for U.S. investor-owned utilities confirmed that it is staying neutral on a controversial petition asking federal regulators to declare net metering illegal.

On June 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will close comments on a petition filed by the New Hampshire-based New England Ratepayers Association asking FERC to adopt a legal argument that would  undermine net-metering  programs in more than 41 states. 

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), whose members include Duke Energy, Dominion and American Electric Power, will “not be filing substantive comments at this time," Adam Benshoff, the group's executive director for regulatory affairs, said in an emailed statement.

The New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) is asking FERC to declare that net-metered solar falls under its "exclusive federal jurisdiction” and to reduce the retail rates net-metered solar is paid to significantly lower wholesale rates. The petition has been condemned by environmental advocates, solar industry groups, state utility regulators and Democrats in Congress as a legally unsound and economically destructive attack against states’ authority over their own energy policies.

If FERC approves the petition, it “could create chaos at the state level,” Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard University, said in a Thursday interview. An approval could open up  state programs to challenges  from utilities in regulatory proceedings and independent lawsuits in federal court, Peskoe said. 

EEI's position of neutrality is significant

Lawmakers and utility watchdog groups have accused NERA of serving the agenda of utilities and industries opposed to clean energy rather than the ratepayers it claims to represent. NERA, which as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization isn’t required to disclose its financial backers, argues that net metering overcompensates solar owners at the expense of other electricity customers. 

EEI and some of its member utilities have made similar arguments against state net-metering programs over the years. In many states, utilities have succeeded in reducing compensation from full retail rates, instituting fixed charges or demand charges, and otherwise shifting costs onto solar customers.

EEI has not come out in support of net metering. Benshoff's statement notes that the group has “long taken issue with retail net energy metering as both a regressive and poor public policy tool that unfairly shifts electricity costs onto the most vulnerable customers.” 

However, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the group and its members “are focused on continuing to provide safe, reliable and affordable service,” and on “policies that will help drive our nation’s economic recovery after this crisis."...

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