Barshinger-Proposed Bill Could Drastically Alter Formula for Renewable Energy in the Territory

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Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger standing next to a large grid of solar panels.

An amendment to a bill that changes the way net metering works in the territory had solar customers and installers up in arms last week. Amendment 30-1019 to Bill 30-0347, proposed by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, would change the current V.I. Water and Power Authority 1:1 net metering program to a “feed-in tariff” program, allowing solar customers to sell the power they generate back to WAPA at a rate set by the Public Services Commission.

The amendment would also limit the size of net metering systems, prevent renters from installing solar panels on their leased property, and would require a plumbing permit from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for the installation of solar hot water heaters.

It all adds up to more money for WAPA at the detriment of solar customers, and effectively, the Virgin Islands environment, said Solar Systems V.I. owner Ed McKenzie.

“Ultimately it’s all about dollars and cents, and WAPA wanting more than the current law provides,” said McKenzie. “Instead of getting one kilowatt hour of credit for every kilowatt hour you generate, you’ll instead get a credit of about 28 cents based upon guidelines that the senate has provided.

With the current rate of more than 50 cents a kilowatt hour, they’re effectively taking away 29 cents per kilowatt hour from customers who spent tens of thousands of dollars on solar systems expecting to make a long-term investment for the future.”

Those who currently have net metering contracts with WAPA would see this change to their net metering accounts on January 1, 2025, while anyone who signs up for net metering after the amendment has passed would immediately fall under the feed-in tariff program. The limiting of the size of net metering systems would also have a negative impact on customers who invested in larger systems, said Eclectic Electric owner Chris Clark in an open letter to Barshinger last week.

“Your recent amendment … limits the size of all net-metering systems to a maximum of 10 kw,” said Clark in his letter. “Since these limits are currently 20 kw residential, 100 kw commercial, and 500 kw public, this is a DRASTIC curtailment.”

The provision of the amendment requiring a DPNR permit for the installation of a solar hot water heater would essentially halt that industry, McKenzie explained.

“Territory-wide, we only have about 70 licensed plumbers, and I can tell you from experience that more than half of those plumbers don’t want to install hot water heaters,” he said. “The bottleneck that will ensue will effectively stop the installation of solar hot water heaters.”

Residents were left wondering why Barshinger, a longtime proponent of renewable energy in the territory, would propose an amendment that’s seemingly harmful to the local solar industry.

Barshinger did not respond to requests for an interview last week, but he did address the issue via an open letter on his website.

“Those with larger net metering systems want to sell at 53 cents under net metering rather than 26 cents under FIT,” he said in the letter. “In 2025, they can start earning 26 cents cash money under FIT. With FIT, your production is actually paid for by WAPA at the avoided cost rate. It only costs 12 cents per kw to produce solar electricity, and you get paid 26 cents. It’s a good deal.”

While WAPA currently provides net metering customers with a 1:1 credit on their bill for the power they generate, WAPA does not pay for power that customers generate but do not use. Net metering balances are reset each year on January 1.

McKenzie, who also owns Wharfside Village and has decades of experience practicing environmental law, alleges that not only is Barshinger’s amendment contrary to public consensus, but it violates the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from enacting laws that retroactively impair contract rights.

“I have customers who are prepared to go to federal court and file a lawsuit against the government in the event that this passes despite the fact that it’s evident that it’s unconstitutional,” said McKenzie, who last week met with some of his customers and other V.I. solar contractors to discuss the proposed bill’s amendment. “We agreed we would all make it known to our senators that we oppose this. It’s absolutely contrary to what the public consensus clearly is.”

The bill and its amendment, which were considered by the V.I. Legislature on May 12, were held until the next legislative session, which has not yet been scheduled according to the senate’s website. Barshinger urged residents to submit their suggestions regarding his amendment to RenewableEnergy@visenate.org.