Vermont Solar Industry Fight for Net Metering Stability

Vermont House With Solar

Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade group for the solar industry and other renewable technologies, penned a letter to Governor Peter Shumlin earlier this week asking him to support the state’s net metering program.

Three smaller utility companies in Vermont have stopped allowing net metering and won’t hook up any new home or business solar arrays to their grids. The state legislation that created net metering allows individual utilities to stop their programs once they get 4 percent of their electricity from distributed generation. Hardwick Electric, Vermont Electric Cooperative and Morrisville Water and Light all say they have reached that threshold.

Renewable Energy Vermont argues in its letter to the governor that solar energy still accounts for less than 1 percent of the electricity generation in the state. If utilities are allowed to quit tying residential rooftop systems to their grids, solar industry growth in the state could screech to a halt as homeowners would lose a large incentive to install them. This would make Shumlin’s goal of getting 90 percent of the power consumed in the state from renewable energy sources by 2050 much more diffilcult.

Renewable Energy Vermont reminded Shumlin in its letter that he has always been a strong advocate for clean and renewable energy.

“Thank you for your commitment to advancing Vermont’s renewable energy economy and the energy leadership you have demonstrated,” the letter reads.

Vermont’s issues with net metering are not occurring in a vacuum. Several states throughout the country are currently working to manage utility desires with those of solar customers and businesses. Arizona recently imposed a small fee for net metering customers,  which was a tiny fraction of what Arizona Public Service requested. California recently passed legislation that contributes to the long-term stability of the state’s net metering policy.

Utilities all over are complaining that buying power from solar customers at the retail rate costs too much and those customers aren’t contributing to grid maintenance expenses. Solar advocates argue that solar customers are pulling more than their own weight since their rooftop installations reduce utilities’ need to add and maintain new distribution lines, as well as reduce line loss since most of the power is used on site.

In Vermont, utilities pay 20 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s 2 to 5 cents more than the retail rate.

VEC applied to reinstate its net metering policy, but at a much lower rate than the current rates - and even lower than the retail rate.

Renewable Energy Vermont argues that limiting net metering will drive the solar industry out of the state just when it has become a strong economic driver.

“Our neighboring states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York have maintained and supported strong net metering programs to facilitate meeting their energy goals and, as a result, their markets have grown and thrived in response to the policy certainty,” the letter goes on to state.

The trade group urged the governor to pursue law changes that will preserve net metering in the state.

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