A bill passed by the Missouri House could increase costs for utility customers who generate their own solar power.

Under the proposal from Republican Travis Fitzwater of Holts Summit, power companies could tack an additional 75 percent of existing grid fees on those who supply their own solar energy.

Fitzwater thinks the charge makes sense because it costs more money to generate power than what customers pay in fixed costs, such as the grid fee.

“If you’re getting a subsidized cost on the front end on your fixed costs to be attached to the grid, and the power companies are getting those subsidized (costs) back in the amount of power that you’re using during the month, if you’re a solar user you’re not paying back the subsidized cost, because you’re not using power during the month, you’re selling it back onto the grid.”

Fittzwater says the extra grid fee charge on solar customers will even out the cost of electricity for everyone.

His measure in the legislature is known as the “net metering” bill.  Net metering is the process by which those who generate some or all of their own energy can buy and sell electricity to their utility.

Fitzwater represents a district which includes Ameren’s Callaway Nuclear Plant.  However, corporate utility companies, also known as investor owned utilities (IOU), are not directly impacted by Fitzwater’s bill.  Any rate hikes imposed by them must be approved by the state’s Public Service Commission.

The measure is drawing its major support from smaller utility cooperatives and municipalities which are not overseen by the commission.

Fitzwater thinks those power companies are seeking to spread costs out  among their rate payers.  He says utilities cover the expense of delivering power through usage charges, which solar customers don’t pay.

“They’re not paying for energy, and therefore they’re not paying for their costs that are built into the cost of energy” said Fitzwater.

Zack Wyatt-Gomez with the Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association contends solar users bring costs down because they sell energy back onto the grid at a wholesale price.

“Every study that has been done about solar going onto the grid, we’ve even had a net metering study done here in the state, and it’s a net benefit for the utility company itself.”  Wyatt-Gomez says a non-partisan study looking at the value of solar needs to be done for Missouri.

He also thinks extra grid charges for solar customers amounts to an unfair tax…and attack on solar customers.  “They are having to pay this extra charge because they have chosen to go more toward a free market aspect than staying with a monopoly.”

Wyatt-Gomez contends the legislation is aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist.  He notes less than 1% of the power generated in Missouri is derived from solar energy.  He acknowledges utilities could face hardships in states like California, Nevada and Arizona, where solar penetration ranges from 54% to 60%.

Fitzwater’s measure grandfather’s in existing solar customers.  Only those who begin generating their own energy after August 28th would be impacted.

The bill also stipulates the additional 75% of grid fee charge is the maximum allowed.  Co-op’s and municipalities would be free to charge any percentage at or below that cap, or nothing at all.

The measure has a chance of passing the legislature and becoming law this session.  Having cleared the House, it now is in a Senate committee.