The state Legislature gives, but it can also take away.
Eversource executives confronted this hard truth during an unusual State House hearing on Tuesday when the co-chairs of the energy committee raised concerns about the utility’s new charge for homeowners who use solar power.
Most committee hearings on Beacon Hill are mild affairs, planned out well in advance, to solicit input on various bills. Not this one. Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Thomas Golden decided last week to revisit Eversource’s new solar fee. (Barrett says precipitating factors included a Globe story and a particularly unhappy constituent.)
The state Department of Public Utilities had just approved this charge, as part of a broader rate case. The goal, Eversource says, is to ensure solar users pay their fair share of the maintenance costs for poles and wires. The new cost for a typical home system totals nearly $120 a year, the company says, a figure that includes a new “demand charge.” Only residents who adopt solar after the year’s end would be affected.
That means there’s still time for lawmakers to change it, and one solar group has already filed a legal appeal. Barrett says he’s concerned about anything that deters solar power adoption, particularly at a time when “the Trump administration is waging a war on clean energy.” Solar power’s benefits to the grid should be figured into the equation, he says, and the Legislature may be interested in bringing all parties “back to the drawing board.”
Lawmakers authorized the adoption of this kind of solar charge back in 2016. But Barrett and Golden made it clear they believe Eversource has taken that permission beyond what the Legislature initially intended.Jon Chesto can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jonchesto.