Solar’s Growth is Unstoppable – But State Policymakers Have Ability to Slow it Down
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As we reported last month, 2015 was a year of jaw-dropping growth for solar. With the 26% federal tax credit extension another five years, it would seem solar’s ascent would continue unchecked.
The forces that would undermine solar’s growth have now turned their attention to state-level battles, specifically, in attacks on net metering, a foundational policy for thriving solar markets.
Net metering enforces the right for solar customers to connect their solar electric system to the public utility grid, selling excess power generation to the utility, earning a credit. These credits can be used for grid consumption at night, in cloudy weather, or in the winter, and are especially useful for people who are combining electric heat pumps and solar PV to have solar-powered heating systems.
New Hampshire: Capped Out
In New Hampshire, there is a 1% net metering cap set by state statute. This means the utilities are under no obligation to continue to add solar customers once this cap has been reached – and as of this writing, all of NH’s utilities save for Unitil have reached their cap.
For their part, NH Electric Co-op came up with a voluntary policy to continue to accept customers at a rate slightly less than retail net metering, but still pretty good for solar. Eversource is accepting net metering ‘waitlist’ applications for a potential cap increase.
ReVision Energy encourages anyone who wants a solar project installed this year to sign up ASAP. Our full-service office staff is working extra-hard to get projects teed up and onto the waitlist as expediently as possible, so that when the cap lifts (as we expect it will) we can mobilize to build out these ‘shovel ready’ projects quickly.
There are two bills in the works that would raise NH’s net metering cap, at least for the short term, until the PUC has a chance to study the Value of Solar and develop a long-term program. As it currently reads, SB333 would increase NH’s cap and also allow new solar customers to benefit from 1:1 retail net metering terms, which is an excellent deal for consumers.
We encourage solar advocates of all stripes – homeowners, businesses, institutions, neighbors – to contact their state legislators and write in to local papers.
Click to visit: SolarForNH.org, our new advocacy site for net metering policy in NH.
Maine: Policy to Expand Solar Under Consideration
This brings us to a process that’s been happening in the background the past few months: a dedicated group of stakeholders have been developing an innovative successor to net metering based on an initial concept developed by Maine’s public advocate
The devil is in the details, but the basic concept is that rather than locking in a set 1:1 retail rate, a solar customer would establish a 20-year contract with the utility and be compensated on a rate schedule from that contract. In the near term, that compensation might even be higher than the current retail rate a customer is eligible for under net metering.
The policy framework is still under development, the product of a process kicked off by Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) and featuring feedback from the stakeholder group which includes a coalition solar advocates, environmental groups, industry groups, and utilities. The results of this stakeholder process were recently sent to the PUC and the PUC has issued a report on this process to Maine’s legislature.
We expect that a bill will be coming together soon outlining the net metering alternative proposal, and we hope that the final language is a product we will enthusiastically support. A bill we would support would include a net metering alternative as good or better for residential and small commercial customers, while also opening up the solar market for three new market segments that do not currently exist in Maine – grid scale solar, large commercial and industrial solar, and large community solar. The new policy has the goal of building 250 megawatts of new solar over the next 5 years in Maine, which is significant, given that the state has under 20 MW total currently.
In any case, taking the time to find common ground with the utilities and discuss serious issues about integrating solar in a significant way into Maine’s electric grid is a positive development. Given that the PUC has fairly broad discretion to make policy changes we have felt it extremely important to be actively engaged in the stakeholder process and work towards long-term policy that resolves any uncertainty in the market. At 1% installed capacity a utility can request a ‘review’ of net metering, and as of Jan 15, CMP did just that. Currently the PUC is waiting to see if the legislature will enact any solar policy which would inform that potential review.
We expect to continue our advocacy work once we see the draft bill and know when it’s going before the legislature. For now, keep an eye on our advocacy site: SolarForMe.org.