Solar Farmers in Kauai County: Free Energy for Me, But Not For Thee

We admit to not paying a lot of attention as we let the six hour plus snoozefest — i.e. last week’s Kaua`i County Council committee meeting, preferring our murder mystery about a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome to the seemingly interminable description of the “Multimodal Land Transportation Plan” that began the meeting.

All we could think was, as Glenn Mickens would say, “as if.” But that’s another column entirely.

It didn’t seem to get any better as Bill 2415 “relating to exemptions for commercial alternative energy facilities” hit the floor. Apparently some developers are seeing dollar signs and have all this “useless” ag land which can now be developed into large-scale solar farms. And they all want to maximize profits by getting a tax break from the county for installing something that just sits there and creates profit for 20 years with minimal maintenance.

But as the discussion droned on as to whether it was indeed agricultural or industrial use, the fact that there would be a limit to the amount of electricity that our local electrical co-op can handle from an “intermittent source” like solar– which only makes hay when the sun shines– came up.

That got our attention because once again it reminded us of the fact that, as anyone who wants to actually put solar panels on their roof and avoid paying for electricity has found out, they are no longer able to participate in the “net metering” program.

Net metering is when the excess electricity one generates from their photovoltaic systems is sold to the co-op at the same rate the user pays for using the co-op’s juice, making the “meter run backwards” as they say.

Anyone who missed the boat on net metering gets paid something for the juice they can’t use, but not the same “equal” amount that those who got in early pay.

Unless, that is, you’re an ag-land-rich developer.

For some reason, even though the amount that individuals can produce without throwing the whole electrical system into chaos has reached its limit, the amount for those who want to sell electricity to KIUC on a large scale basis has not.

And they’re even apparently going to get a tax break.

There are plans of course to figure out a storage medium, whether by using super-batteries or by heating water or a through few other schemes. But these seem to be reserved for those who want to “sell you electricity” which of course is, like investor-owned utitlities, still the core business plan of our local electric co-op, despite the fact that it is now owned by the end users.

Getting “free” electricity from the sun is a great idea. The problem comes when the way we go about it is to make it so that the only one who gets it for “free” is KIUC which then turns around and sells it to us rather than facilitating putting panels on individual users’ roofs and providing its members with the “free” stuff.