October Net Metering Round Up

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Welcome to the October net metering round up. Here you will find all the latest information about what’s been happening in the world of net energy metering (NEM). It’s been a busy month. So buckle up and get comfy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Hawaii Eliminates Net Metering

The first state to completely eliminate net metering is Hawaii. This came as a surprise from a state that has a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ruling does not impact existing customers. New solar customers, however, will have two options, which both differ widely from net metering. The choices are between two tariffs – a grid-supply option or a self-supply option. Neither offer the same financial benefits as net metering.

The self-supply option allows customers to generate most of their power from their own PV system, with no grid requirements. A limited amount of export to the grid is allowed, but not compensated.

Residential customers will have a minimum bill of $25.

The grid-supply option is more similar to NEM. In this case, customers have the option of exporting excess energy to the grid in exchange for energy credits against their customer’s bills.

The main difference between NEM and grid-supply is the compensation. While net metering credited customers the full retail rate, grid-supply customers will be credited at a fixed rate. This varies from 15 cents to 28 cents per kWh, depending on where the customer lives.

How this change will impact the state’s solar industry is a matter of some debate. Some see a risk of shrinking the rooftop solar market – and disproportionately affecting low and middle income residents. Others see opportunity for growth. They see the potential for storage and demand flexibility to play a larger role, thus decreasing a homeowners reliance on the grid.

How will this impact Hawaii’s move towards their 100 percent renewables goal? We’ll keep you posted.

Arizona Solar Evolves

Last month, after a contentious battle, Arizona Public Service (APS) withdrew its request to raise solar rates. This month, the Arizona Corporation Commission ruled that APS could not raise solar rates until their full rate case is presented next year.

The ACC will spend that time studying the costs for utilities to serve solar customers, as requested, and also evaluate the benefits solar brings to the grid.

In the meantime, Tuscon Electric Power (TEP) unveiled the plan they have been working on since last year. TEP is now inviting its residential customers to rent their panels from the utility, who will own and operate them. In return, customers receive a fixed rate for up to 25 years.

How will this work out for solar customers? Check back for updates.

California Net Metering Under Review

California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has begun net metering hearings. The current program is scheduled to be updated by the end of the year. Before the hearings even began, many people were wondering how the APS experience in Arizona would impact the proceedings. An early indicator occurred during the first week of the hearings, when it was revealed that a member of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA) had been in contact with a former analyst with the Arizona Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO). RUCO had proposed a capacity charge in the state of up to $3/kWh. APS later applied to increase that amount.

The increase ORA has proposed is 1400 times higher than the APS proposal.

Why ORA, an organization which should have the consumers best interest at heart, would submit a plan that is more closely aligned with utility proposals than with consumer interest remains a mystery.

A CALSEIA poll this month revealed that 80 percent of California residents expressed disapproval of the utility proposals against net metering. Furthermore, 90 percent of Californians said they were in favor of rooftop solar, and 88 percent felt that more should be done to encourage it.

The utilities have submitted their own proposals. Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, said the proposed changes would be “catastrophic” for solar in the state.

PG&E’s proposal, for example, would impose discriminatory fees on solar customers, which the utility  demonstrated in their proposal. When another Arizona utility, the Salt River Project, imposed a similar fee, applications for new solar projects decreased by 95 percent within one month. If such a plan were implemented in the entire state of California, it could decimate the net metering program.

On the other side of the table, solar advocates would be happy to see the program remain largely unchanged.

A decision must be reached by the end of the year. Stay tuned for further updates.

Caution: Net Metering Caps Are Closer than They Appear

Some states have met their net metering limits, or are dangerously close to them. Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York are handling the issue in their own ways.

Vermont

Last year, Vermont nearly quadrupled its net metering cap from four percent to fifteen percent of peak load. Now, thanks to strong solar growth, one utility, Hardwick Electric, has hit the 15 percent limit. Green Mountain Power, the utility that serves three quarters of the population, expects to hit the cap early next year. Vermont Electric Cooperative has already reached its 2015 cap and expects to hit its 2016 cap in the beginning of the year. The Vermont Public Service Department (PSD) is expected to release a draft proposal addressing the issue.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is also looking down the barrel of an approaching NEM cap.  National Grid is nearing its limit, and the utility still has a waiting list of solar customers. The Massachusetts legislature is working on a comprehensive energy bill. However, House of Representatives leaders want to remove solar from the energy bill and deal with it in a completely separate solar bill.

The move could bring new solar legislation sooner, as the House would vote on the solar bill next month, while the energy bill will be examined in the 2016 session. The proposed solar bill would raise the cap from 1600 MW to 2400 MW. It would also order the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to use a solar valuation study to determine a minimum bill for solar customers after the 1600 MW limit is reached.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire, meanwhile, is jumping into the net metering discussion for the first time since 2012, when the state’s net metering cap was set at 50 MW.  According to the Northeast Clean Energy Council, this accounts for two percent of the state’s total electric load. The 50 MW is divided between New Hampshire’s utilities. Liberty Utilities hit their cap in the summer, and Eversource will reach its limit in the near future. The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has passed their cap and worked out a tariff with its customers to keep solar alive.

Despite the danger of losing solar projects and the financial benefits they bring to the state, the New Hampshire legislature has not called for a special legislative session to increase the cap. If this does not happen, the legislature may not address the issue until the 2016 session.

New York

New York has taken a proactive approach to addressing its net metering cap. The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) essentially eliminated the cap until values for distributed energy resources (DER’s) are set under the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision. This is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.  The ruling applies to all six investor owned utilities.

Photo Credit: thellr/KILOWATTHOUR