New regulations could affect future of solar panel homes

New regulations could affect future of solar panel homes
Though solar panels cost thousands to install, homeowners believe the cost will be offset by net metering.
Solar advocates are concerned House Bill 227 would halt innovation. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Solar advocates are concerned House Bill 227 would halt innovation. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A bill scaling back incentives to install residential solar panels passed the Kentucky house.

This creates a lot of questions for people who have already invested in solar panels and agreed to credit terms. Those for House Bill 227 say this system is dated and needs to change.

"In the very first years, I would post my bill on Facebook because it was so low," solar panel owner, Stuart Ungar, said. "It could be $15 dollars during the summer."

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Most solar panel homes like Ungar's are still on the electric grid. The excess energy they create offsets their bill at the same exact rate the utility company sells it at. Those are the net metering terms Ungar agreed to when he decided to install solar panels.

"The biggest incentives for me were being self-sufficient and saving money for my family," Ungar said.

He installed the solar panels on his home about seven years ago. He said the start up cost was around $10,000, but he looked forward to the net metering eventually paying off.

"When you force the utilities to pay them back at the same exact price, which is much more than generation cost, then ultimately people who cannot afford rooftop solar could be subsidizing that cost," Rep. Jim Gooch Junior said.

Gooch, a loyal coal advocate, sponsored HB 227. He said the current net metering laws were created 15 years ago.

"We are not worried about the utility companies, we are worried about whether some poor person who cannot afford rooftop solar is paying a little bit of the cost on their utility bill," Gooch said.

He told us he is not claiming an increase in utility bills because of rooftop solar, but he said the bill is meant to be proactive.

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Solar advocates said they have not seen studies from bill sponsors on what kind of cost solar panel homes create for the utility companies.

If the bill passes, Ungar's panels would be grandfathered into current net metering regulations, but he thinks change would halt innovation.

"There is no incentive for someone to take the reins of being self-sufficient and calling the shots within their own property," Ungar said.

HB 227 now will go to the senate. A similar bill last year never made it out of committee in the senate, but there are strong feelings it will get a vote this year.

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