Renewable energy bill dies in committee | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Renewable energy bill dies in committee

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 5:18 PM

HB 1885, a bill sponsored by Rep. Warwick Sabin to promote renewable energy and distributed generation (producing smaller quantities of power closer to the point of consumption) was killed in the Joint Energy Committee today when Rep. Jim Sorvillo moved for immediate consideration of the bill, which was voted down without hearing from eight citizens present to testify for the bill. 

The bill would have created a regulatory structure through which individuals or small businesses could contract with utilities to sell very small-scale distributed generation. If, for example, a homeowner put up solar panels or a farm used wind turbines, the power generated over and above what was used could then be bought by the utilities and distributed via the existing grid locally. This would create an opportunity for profit for small-scale producers and potentially a more efficient and cheaper system, with energy being produced locally in multiple locations instead of having to travel longer distances on power lines from just a few big plants. 

Advocates of distributed generation argue that it would promote economic development and create jobs — giving businesses, farms, or individuals a mechanism to make money via small-scale power production and encourage investment in energy-generating infrastructure and energy-efficient technology. 

“Not only are you creating a profit incentive for these folks but you’re encouraging more renewable energy and you’re increasing the reliability and efficiency of the overall grid because you have all of these different places producing energy,” Sabin said. 

The bill is similar to one brought by Sabin in 2013, which also died in committee. After a good deal of haggling, it was supported by both the Sierra Club and Entergy Arkansas, and Public Service Commission executive director John Bethel sat next to Sabin as he presented the bill and testified that the PSC had no objection (the PSC worked closely with lawmakers and other stakeholders in the development of the bill).

After Sabin presented the bill, Sorvillo moved for immediate consideration, ignoring various folks on hand to testify for the bill; the motion passed, the committee voted down the bill, and then adjourned. 

Another bill from Sabin did pass out of committee. HB 1633, which was presented first, has similar aims but focused on longer-term power purchasing agreements for larger producers (with the minimum amount of power 20 megawatts, whereas the maximum for HB 1885, the distributed generation bill, was 20 megawatts). Sabin expressed frustration, noting that the two bills were intended to go hand in hand—the committee gave the go-ahead for utilities to contract with larger producers but not smaller ones. 

Given Entergy's support, it would be interesting to know precisely where the lobbying muscle behind opposition to 1885 came from. The technology behind distributed generation is advancing quickly, this kind of energy production is becoming cheaper, and these approaches have been successful for utilities in other states, so it's hard to believe that the state won't eventually be moving in this direction. But the Joint Energy Committee is apparently committed to slowing down the train for now. 

"I'm confused as to why there was acceptance of one concept and dismissal of the other when they really go so well together and accomplish the same ends," Sabin said. "They would have also positioned Arkansas to maximize economic development as a result. It also diversifies the energy sources, offers greater energy independence, it increases the security of the electric system, and protects the integrity and reliability of the overall electricity generation system."

The committee did find time to pass a meaningless resolution against Clean Line wind energy and a letter urging state resistance to federal clean air standards. These aren't matters under the state legislature's jurisdiction, but grandstanding wins the day in the Joint Energy Committee. 

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