While utilities in a number of states throughout the country are fighting to scale back net metering programs for rooftop solar, Vermont has passed progressive net metering expansion legislation.
A bill that will nearly quadruple the net metering cap in Vermont from 4 percent of utility capacity to 15 percent needs only to be signed by the governor. That signing is expected within the next couple weeks, according to Ben Walsh, a clean energy advocate with environmental nonprofit VIPRG.
Net metering is the policy that requires utility companies to pay for excess power solar customers generate and feed back onto the grid. In most instances, the rate utilities pay is the retail electric rate. In Vermont, however, utilities pay 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the retail rate – an adder.
That incentive remains intact even in the expanded program.
While the adder is enticing, the state relies heavily on net metering to drive investment in rooftop solar. There is no renewable energy portfolio standard or SREC program and rebates have been dwindling.
Nonetheless, Vermont is a leader in solar adoption, consistently ranking among the top 10 states in the country for per capita installed solar. The state also ranks No. 1 for solar jobs per capita and clean jobs.
During the summer, many of Vermont’s smaller utilities were hitting their net metering caps and denying rooftop solar customers who made grid connection applications.
It was clear the legislature needed to act.
“Solar has been really taking off,” Walsh said. “We knew we didn’t want to put the brakes on now.”
While many utility companies did come forward asking for different approaches to net metering that would reduce the benefit, they ultimately compromised.
“The bottom line is really that everyone in Vermont understands the value of clean energy and, particularly solar,” Walsh said. “Our largest utility understands that probably better than anyone because they’re hearing it from their customers.”
Green Mountain Power, which serves more than 70 percent of the state population, stands out as a progressive utility and supporter of solar energy investments.
“I think having a cap is a huge problem,” utility CEO Mary Powell told the local newspaper. “There should be no cap. We should figure out how to adapt to this new future that is here and what our customers want.”
While net metering might be a thorn in the side of utilities all over, Walsh said companies in Vermont know they have to embrace it if they want to keep doing business with the people of Vermont.
“Our legislature and utilities understand that is the direction we need to go,” Walsh said.