The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is expected to decide this week whether to grant a petition that requests the agency to massively expand federal regulatory authority over the energy sector. Filed in April by a group with links to electric utilities, the petition seeks to have the federal government claim exclusive jurisdiction over all sales of electricity that are “behind the meter”, such as electricity generated by a homeowner and sold back onto the grid. If granted, the petition would invalidate “net metering” programs in many states, which allow consumers to sell electricity they generate themselves.

And, while it is rare that government bodies turn down requests to increase their own power, in this case, there are good reasons why FERC might think twice about granting the petition. For starters, opposition to it has already been overwhelming, ranging from states to environmental groups to conservatives that are concerned about federal overreach. It is also not clear that FERC would enjoy trying to oversee every case where a homeowner with solar panels on their roof wishes to sell excess generation to the grid. Perhaps most notably, there is also a serious and valid question as to whether FERC even possesses the legal authority to claim exclusive jurisdiction here.

However, even if the petition is not granted, it will not be the end of the discussion on net metering. While the practice has passionate advocates, it also has equally passionate critics, and, frankly speaking, it is not the most effective policy to achieve its stated goals. For this reason, several states have already taken the very positive step to look for ways to move beyond it. This is at it should be, as states and localities have better knowledge of local conditions and are better placed to experiment and craft specialized policies, which is precisely the reason we have a federal system.

Image credit:  Oleksandr_Delyk

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