Energetic Start – a Legislative Report

Energetic Start – a Legislative Report

This article by Vermont Representative Rebecca Ellis first ran in the January 23, 2014 edition of the Waterbury Record.

Last Friday, on a bipartisan vote of 11-0-0, the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved a bill to promote solar net metering.  Dating back to 1998, the concept of rolling back the meter took off in 2011, when the Legislature adopted the solar adder, putting into law a program developed by Green Mountain Power to pay customers $.20 for each kwh of energy produced.

Several Waterbury-Duxbury residents testified in support of the solar net metering bill, including Jamison Ervin of Waterbury LEAP; Robert Dostis of Green Mountain Power; Luke Shullenberger of Green Lantern Development; and Tom Drake, principal of Crossett Brook Primary Middle School.  These and other witnesses described how solar net metering benefits the environment, encourages job growth, reduces energy costs, promotes energy independence, and diversifies Vermont’s energy resources.

By guaranteeing a predictable source of revenue, the solar adder has made it possible for almost any homeowner with good sun exposure to obtain financing for a solar electric system.  Waterbury and Duxbury residents have directly benefited from this secure financial model.

Over the last 2 years, over 60 homeowners in Waterbury and Duxbury, at all income levels, have installed new solar systems on their roofs and in their yards.  In December, with the help of private financing and at no cost to taxpayers, a 157-kW solar array went live at Crossett Brook Middle School.  All of this activity, combined with the fact that several solar companies have opted to set up shop in our area, has resulted in over 60 good-paying jobs in Waterbury and Duxbury.

Experts before the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee explained that net metering helps reduce overall transmission costs for everyone, whether the solar panels are located on your roof or your neighbor’s.  Efficiency measures, combined with net metering, have already deferred $400 million in Vermonters’ future transmission costs by lowering our overall demand for energy.  This means real savings on your monthly energy bills.

Another way in which solar net metering keeps costs down for everyone is by shaving off consumption at peak demand.  For Green Mountain Power, peak demand is in the summer between 11 AM and 5 PM, when temperatures are hot, and homes and businesses rely on air conditioning.  This is also when solar panels are producing the most energy, thus reducing the utility’s need to buy expensive power off the grid.

The success of the solar net metering program has also caused some growing pains, leading to this year’s net metering bill.  Some of the smaller, rural utilities recently hit a statutory cap on peak demand of 4% for net metering and were forced to turn away customers who wanted to participate in the net metering program, including customers in Duxbury.

The House Natural Resources and Energy bill addresses this issue by raising the 4% cap on net metering to 15%, allowing customers statewide to take full advantage of federal solar incentive tax credits that are anticipated to expire at the end of 2016. Specifically, the bill would make the following changes to the law:

  • Increase the cap on net metering from 4% to 15% of a utility’s peak load;
  • Raise the 10 day-registration eligibility for a certificate of public good from 10kW to 15kW;
  • Keep the solar adder at $.20/kwh for smaller projects of 15kW or less;
  • Achieve cost savings for utilities by reduced net metering payments to $.19/kwh for projects over 15kW, representing about two-thirds of all capacity built;
  • Achieve further cost savings for some of the smaller utilities by using blended rates, instead of the highest rate, for purposes of calculating net metering payments;
  • Eliminate the requirement that group net metering projects must be located on the premises of a group member;
  • Recognize renewable energy achievement by providing that if a utility reaches a 90% renewable portfolio, of which at least 10% is net metering, the utility may design its own alternative net metering program that reflects its advanced power portfolio.

The bill also sets the framework for a future solar net metering program that would take effect on January 1, 2017.  It requires the Department of Public Service to undertake a study of net metering in 2014, and mandates that the Public Service Board promulgate proposed rules for a new net metering program by January 1, 2016.  By law, the PSB’s new rules would not be effective until January 1, 2017, giving the Legislature an opportunity to review the rules during the 2016 session.

The net metering bill has marked an exciting and productive start to the 2014 legislative session.  I look forward to hearing from you about this or any other issue.  My email is ellisvermont@yahoo.com and my cell phone number is 839-0515.

Rep. Rebecca Ellis is Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.