3 on Your Side: Solar power dispute - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 on Your Side: Solar power dispute

By Cheryl Lasseter - bio | email

RANKIN COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - At his home in Johns, Brian Smyda has invested about $90,000 in what he's heard is the largest solar power configuration in the state of Mississippi.  Because the federal government promotes alternative power sources, he was able to write off 30 percent of the cost.

Smyda could power his entire home with his system but instead just uses it to run major appliances like his refrigerator.  "Because it ties in with the grid, it's supplementing the power in the house," he said.  "Every time the sun comes up, it's free energy.  I'm producing power not only for my house, but I'm feeding it back to the grid.  I'm easing that burden."

But he said his electric company, Southern Pine, doesn't see it that way. 

About three weeks ago, Smyda said a meter reader came out and noticed his meter was running backwards.  "Within 30 minutes, I had an engineer and lineman in my shop, waving a contract in my face, freaking out," said Smyda.

The contract was an eye opener.  Southern Pine requires homeowners who use solar power to pay "for all modifications required for reconnecting to the (solar power) system."  The cooperative also "has the right to require the (home)owner to pay a facilities charge to recover the administration cost."

Additionally, the contract states that the homeowner "shall purchase liability insurance in the amount of $300,000."

Smyda and his friend, Brandon attorney Will Hyche, believe all the regulations and tacked-on costs defeat the purpose of energy conservation through solar power.  Hyche lives on Highway 18 in Rankin County.  He has considered using solar power for his home, and he received the same contract.  

Hyche pointed out one paragraph written in all capital letters.  It states the (home)owner with a solar power configuration gives up the right to bring a lawsuit against the cooperative for any reason or take the cooperative to trial.

Hyche called the contract "oppressive."

"We have a constitutional right to a trial on disputes.  They're saying, if you have solar, you're gonna have to waive that right.  There's something wrong with that picture," said Hyche.

Smyda said Southern Pine has warned him they may shut off his power if he doesn't sign the agreement.  "Solar is trying to come to the state of Mississippi.  It's just being deterred," he said.

Larry Robinson, Manager of System Engineering with Southern Pine, said the contract is one that all 11 southern Mississippi cooperatives will be using.  He said it's a three-party agreement between Southern Pine, the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, and the consumer. Robinson said safety is the top priority, and safety assurances take prominence in the agreement. 

We asked Robinson if Southern Pine encourages the use of solar power.  "We are certainly trying to," he said.

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