A bill to require electrical service providers buyback electricity produced by private home generating systems is awaiting action in the North Dakota Senate. The bill would require all electric cooperatives do what some electric providers already offer.
Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, D-Fargo, said the bill was an attempt to mandate "net metering" where people with an electrical generating capacity could sell power to their rural electric to receive a credit against the electricity they consume from the electric company.
"We do have four members that are interconnected with renewable generators," said Scott Buchholtz, manager of information technology for Northern Plains Electrical Cooperative. "There were more in the late 80s."
Northern Plains purchases any excess power provided by the customer at a lower price than the power sold to the customer at retail.
Buchholtz said the initial interest in the 1980s was for wind turbines although solar panels are drawing more interest now with about a dozen inquires per year.
"Most are just seeking information," he said.
The bill includes a list of possible renewable energy sources including wind and solar as well as hydrogen, organic waste and farm residue.
The idea of customers reducing their electric bills by selling power back to the provider is not available across all of North Dakota.
Paul Matthys, vice president of member and energy services for Cass County Electrical Cooperative, testified against the bill saying the bill allowed the consumer to use the power grid for free to sell his electricity thereby raising the costs for everyone.
Zac Smith, communications and government relations director for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, also testified against the bill saying the decision should be left up to each individual cooperative.
Brian Kroshus, member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, said the investor-owned electric service providers already provide net billing. The bill would expand the PSC's role in administrating the process done by rural electric cooperatives.
Testimony in favor of the bill centered on the ability of local consumers to reduce their cost of electricity.
Scott Skokos, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, said it would give North Dakota farmers the opportunities as landowners in other states.
"Our members have been frustrated that their friends and landowners in other states have been able to utilize net-metering to cut costs, but they can’t here in North Dakota," he said in testimony before the Senate Business, Industry and Labor Committee Wednesday.
During testimony, 11 people spoke in favor of the bill, five were opposed and one was neutral. The bill has not been acted on and is still pending before the Senate Business, Industry and Labor Committee.