Anti-rooftop solar bill defeated in final hour of 2018 Kentucky General Assembly

In one of its final legislatives moves before adjourning on April 14, the Kentucky Senate tabled a vote on House Bill 227, the anti-rooftop solar bill pushed by utilities. At the last possible moment, Senate leaders recommitted the bill to a committee, rather than bringing it up for a vote, because the bill did not have enough support to pass. When the 2018 session of the General Assembly ended an hour or so later, KFTC members and solar advocates celebrated.

“I am very happy,” said E. Gail Chandler of Shelby County. “I’m 75 years old and this is the first time I’ve ever actively been involved in fighting a bill. It’s very gratifying to win. It makes me hopeful for the future, not only for Kentucky but for this country.”

“While we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief, we will not rest. We know that the utilities are not going to just let this go,” noted KFTC member Steve Wilkins of Berea. “I was glad that solar businesses, environmental groups and other allies coordinated so well together during this session. We demonstrated the power of independent voices bringing a common message and aligned strategy. We will need to build on that, because there’s still so much more work for us to do.”

HB 227 was one of the most heavily and expensively lobbied bills during the 2018 session. Numerous utility lobbyists work for passage of HB 227, which would have ended solar net-metering as we know it and wrecked the future of rooftop solar in Kentucky.

According to their financial disclosure forms, major utilities (including LG&E/KU, Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, Big Rivers Electric Corporation and Duke Energy) spent more than $200,000 lobbying on this bill in January and February alone. That figure does not include additional spending by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, several state based groups funded by the Koch Brothers, and a national industry front group called the Consumer Energy Alliance.

"The utilities used and burned a lot of political capital on this bill,” said Wilkins. “They have existential fears, and it’s important to acknowledge that. But their attacks on net-metering are short-sighted and do not resolve their existential concerns. Rather than doing the heavy lift to create new, long-term business models in a transforming energy market, they are pursuing the short-term goal of destroying net-metered rooftop solar. That will only accelerate the defection of customers from the grid, leaving them in a worse position than they are in now.”

HB 227 also was one of the bills KFTC members worked hardest against, along with numerous other allies and solar business groups. It was actively opposed by environmental and conservation groups, solar businesses, free enterprise advocates, rural development organizations, affordable housing organizations, faith based groups, several Tea Party aligned groups, and many others.

Widespread public opposition made it difficult for utilities to get the bill moving, and slowed its progress throughout the three-month session. Utility lobbyists and their legislative allies amended the bill multiple times, each time calling the new version a “compromise.” But there were never sincere negotiations. And none of the versions of the bill proposed in House or Senate addressed the concerns of solar advocates. 

Timeline of HB 227's journey to defeat

 January 22 – House Bill 227 is introduced by Rep. Jim Gooch and four Republican cosponsors.

January 31 – Gooch calls a special meeting of the Natural Resources & Energy Committee, but abruptly adjourns when it is clean HB 227 does not have the support to pass after strong testimony from solar and industry advocates.

February 2 – House leaders appoint three additional members to the Natural Resource & Energy Committee, while saying their action had nothing to do with stacking the committee so that HB 227 could advance.

February 8 – In another special-called meeting, HB 227 wins committee approval by a 14-4 vote (with 3 passes and one abstention).

February 27 – After being slowed by 29 House floor amendments and growing opposition, HB 227 is recommitted to the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee.

March 5 – During another special meeting, Gooch presents a “compromise” bill; during the committee discussion, Gooch asks an industry lobbyist to explain provisions of the new version. The answer seems to surprise committee members, as it differed from the summary Gooch had offered. Gooch abruptly adjourned the meeting.

March 13 – During the fourth special committee meeting called to hear HB 227, a new, new version of HB 227 passes 13-2-1. 

March 14 – After a two-hour debate, the full House approves HB 227 by a 49-45 vote.

March 15-29 - The intense lobbying efforts then focused on the Senate, particularly the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. While committee members and utilities were negotiating behind the scenes, Senate leaders made some parliamentary maneuvers to help fast-track passage of the bill.

March 29 – The Senate NR&E Committee approves another "new" version of HB 227, by a 6-3 vote, with some additional, and still unacceptable, changes.

March 29-14 - HB 227 is on the Senate’s agenda during the final days of the 2018 session. But Senate leaders repeatedly skip over the bill, while working to secure enough votes for its passage.

April 14 – HB 227 is sent back to the Senate committee, rather than being called up for a final vote in the Senate. The 2018 General Assembly came to a close about an hour later.

Among other tactics, proponents set up robo-calls to Kentuckians, connecting voters throughout the state to the Legislative Message Line.

Some lawmakers reported that the calls and emails they received at times ran heavily in favor of HB 227. But at least one GOP House member, Rep. David Hale, noted in his floor speech that when he called people back, they said they had not contacted him. He explained his no vote was based on those types of fraudulent and bullying actions by some of the bill's supporters.

Proponents of HB 227 also promoted an urban-rural divide, presenting solar energy as something supported by liberal urban elites and of no benefit to rural areas. Some lawmakers bought and repeated that argument, while others did not.

"We absolutely don't have a problem with what's going on with solar," said Rep. Tim Couch of Hyden, who also is a strong backer of coal. Several eastern Kentucky House members voted against HB 227.

“The bill has nothing to do with fairness, and is all about corporate profits," pointed out Rep. Chris Harris of Pike County.

“How we vote on this bill shows where our sympathies lie,” stated Rep. Angie Hatton of Letcher County. “My sympathy lies with the people in my district who are struggling to pay their electric bills. It does not lie with the monopoly utilities.”