Back when I was in high school, many years ago, I played a role in Eugene Ionesco’s Bald Soprano, one of the important plays in the 20th century’s theater of the absurd.
For more than a year, I have played a similar role in theater of the absurd at the WV PSC. One of the basic ideas of theater of the absurd plays is that there is no plot development. By the end of the play, the characters are no different, or any better or worse off, than when the play started. That is exactly what has happened in real life at the WV PSC.
It all started back in November 2011 when a number of us, all of whom produce electricity from our own solar power systems, filed with the WV PSC to have our systems certified to sell renewable energy credits under the phony Alternative and Renewable Portfolio Standard that the coal industry cooked up and sold to the WV Legislature in 2009. I have written extensively about this law, and its giveaways to AEP’s and FirstEnergy’s coal-fired WV subsidiaries, here and here.
Because all of us were already certified and selling solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, that have real renewable energy portfolio standards, we thought getting certified in WV would be simple. When our own system was certified to sell out of state credits in OH, PA and DC, we filled out a single application form for all three states and were certified with no additional paperwork within three months in all three states.
We knew we were engaging in a theater of the absurd effort, because both AEP and FirstEnergy have already filed reports with the PSC stating that they won’t have to buy credits from anyone else, because they can meet all of the WV ARPS law’s requirements without any help from renewable energy sources before 2026. Our main purpose was to educate the PSC and its staff about the flaws in the ARPS law, and to show them that there is a solar power industry in our state.
Well, we were sure wrong about how easy it would be to get certified, but we were absolutely right that the PSC and its staff needed an education.
After we all filed our petitions, plus 12 copies, as required in all PSC cases, the Commissioners responded with an order informing us that we had not provided enough information. Keep in mind that the WV PSC provides no certification application forms on the Internet, as do OH, PA and DC. You are supposed to go through their regulations and figure out what they want. Although we had all sent them descriptions of our systems, using the information we had provided to other states, that wasn’t good enough for the WV PSC.
In particular, the PSC pointed to two specific WV rules: (1) our systems had to have special “revenue quality” meters (like your power company electric meter) to measure how much electricity our solar panels produce and (2) our systems had to be registered on GATS, PJM Interconnections official registry of all renewable power systems that qualify for renewable energy credits in the PJM region. We were all puzzled by these requirements because (1) no other state had required revenue quality meters and (2) we were all already registered at GATS, so we knew we met PJM’s requirements.
Bob Hoffa, one of the applicants, and a Greenbrier County solar power installer, had to inform the WV PSC’s engineering staff that WV’s requirement that we have revenue quality meters did not conform to PJM’s GATS requirements. Because these kinds of meters are often not compatible with a range of small scale solar power systems, and because there is no real need for these kinds of meters, PJM allows producers of solar electricity to report their production from the meters that are built into their inverters and charge controllers, without having to buy an additional, unnecessary meter.
So when the WV PSC created its rules for small scale solar power producers, it created rules that contradicted themselves, because the rule that WV producers have revenue quality meters directly contradicted PJM’s GATS rules that these meters were not necessary.
In its first filing in the case, the engineering staff of the WV PSC acknowledged the PSC’s mistake and urged the PSC to change its faulty rules and to immediately certify all of us who had applied for renewable energy certificates.
Did the PSC take its own engineers’ advice? No. They told us applicants that they wanted us to tell them what the laws and rules were in the states where we were certified. They also wanted us to provide detailed engineering specifications of the meters that we were using to report our production to GATS and the other states.
This outrageous burden was not imposed by any other states where we are certified. To respond fully to the PSC’s order would have required hiring specialized lawyers and engineers to testify on our behalf.
I responded to this order as you would expect from my statements above. But I did provide as much detail about my system as I could find on the Internet, including specifications about my charge controller from its manufacturer and quotes from pages on my SREC broker’s Web site outlining metering requirements in OH, PA and DC, where our system is certified. I also included the GATS registration number of my renewable power certificate at PJM.
Following our responses, the PSC engineering staff once again filed a recommendation that the PSC correct its faulty rules and grant us our certifications. And guess what else the engineers did? They went to the footnotes I provided from the SRECTrade Web pages and printed out the pages, attaching them to their pleading. Did they do any independent research? No. They just printed out the links that I gave them.
All of which gets us up to last Friday, Dec. 7. Yes, the PSC, after 13 months, finally granted us certification to sell renewable energy credits in WV. The earliest these credits could ever be sold, based on what the power companies have reported, is 2026, but if it ever happens, we will be ready. So in reality, after all this ridiculous activity, nothing has really changed. We still can’t sell the credits that we can easily sell in surrounding states.
But the theater of the absurd doesn’t end there. In their final order, the Commissioners did not respond AT ALL to their own engineers’ observations (TWICE) that the PSC’s rules are wrong. Instead of saying, yes our revenue quality meter requirement is wrong, we are changing our rules, the PSC said that because installing revenue quality meters on the systems of these particular applicants would be a “hardship,” they were granting us our certificates. And, to add to the absurdity, the Commission ordered us to provide them with our GATS registration numbers, although almost all of us had already done that in our original petitions or our additional information filings.
So the WV PSC will continue sailing along with self-contradictory rules, and will grant renewable credit certification to WV’s solar power producers only as “hardship” cases.
In my second filing in this case, I pointed out that the District of Columbia maintains a single open case for handling renewable energy credit certification, along with a simple application form that specifies exactly what information the DC PSC requires. Although the PSC noted my comments in its final order, it took no action to provide the same sensible application process in WV.
So we accomplished our mission of educating at least the WV PSC engineering staff. Although we were able to get our certification, the PSC utterly failed to correct the significant problems with their own application process and registration requirements.
We see once again that, far from encouraging renewable energy innovation in WV, the ARPS law is being used to actively suppress solar power generation, even as AEP’s and FirstEnergy’s WV subsidiaries are claiming that there is a shortage of generation capacity in our state. Absurd.