NH solar: PUC lifts net metering limitsBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
June 25. 2017 8:10PM
CONCORD — Utility regulators have issued a long-awaited order with significant implications for the growing solar industry in New Hampshire and financial rewards for property owners who install solar panels.
The order lifts all existing limits on so-called net metering, the process by which people who own solar panels sell their surplus electricity back into the grid as an offset to their electric bills.
In a 74-page ruling handed down late Friday afternoon, the Public Utilities Commission settled an issue that has been in dispute for several years, as utility interests and solar industry advocates squared off over the proper way to compensate people who own solar panels without imposing unfair costs on those who don’t.
“The order reflects a fair compromise and will certainly protect all ratepayers while allowing consumers to continue to choose to install solar and get reasonably compensated for the value of their energy,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the N.H. Clean Tech Council and Solar Energy Association.
“It also protects the 1,000-plus jobs in the industry and opens up new opportunities for municipalities, utilities and businesses,” she said.
Many of the states with net metering laws have no limit on how many megawatts can be accommodated, and that’s where solar advocates wanted to see New Hampshire go. They won that battle, at least for now. The PUC order lifts the current 100-megawatt limit on solar power eligible for net metering, which was put into place last year.
The state managed for years with a 50-megawatt limit, until the solar installations took off in 2015, and the limit was quickly exhausted. In 2016, lawmakers raised the limit to 75 megawatts to give regulators time to figure out a long-term solution, and that was soon raised to 100 megawatts.
How much to pay
The key issue is how much to pay solar panel owners for the electricity they sell back into the grid. They are currently paid the full, retail rate, meaning all parts of the electric bill, not just power supply.
Residential customers in the Eversource net metering program, for example, have been getting 16.5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity “exported.”
Utilities have argued that net metered customers should only be paid the wholesale energy supply price, which is a fraction of the full retail rate and varies hourly according to market conditions. The PUC ruling comes down somewhere between those two extremes, but very much on the side of consumers, according to the state-appointed consumer advocate for utility issues, attorney Donald Kreis.
“We have our long-awaited net metering order, and it is a qualified victory for consumers,” he wrote in a Saturday Facebook post. “We were able to persuade the utilities to walk away from draconian rate design schemes that were calculated to punish rather than reward people for generating some of their own electricity and sharing some of it with their neighbors.”
Kreis said the order sets the stage for a shift in the energy delivery system that relies more on small generators like homeowners with solar panels, in what is called “distributed generation” instead of the old utility model of consolidation and large-scale generation.
“We’ve charted a path forward for the further implementation of new technologies and new rate designs that will make consumers more powerful and autonomous users of the grid,” wrote Kreis. “And we did these things as distributed generation is just taking root in the Granite State, as opposed to waiting until much later in the development process as other states have done.”
The PUC found, despite utility claims to the contrary, “that there is little to no evidence of any significant cost-shifting” from net metering.
Eversource spokesperson Martin Murray said the utility is still evaluating the order.
“Our initial look tells us that the PUC adopted the common elements of two settlements that were developed and is committed to resolving remaining differences,” he said. “There seems to be broad agreement that everyone who uses the energy grid should share fairly in the cost of the grid. Eversource is looking forward to participating in the working groups and studies that the order indicates will soon get underway.”
What the order says
Here are some highlights:
• The net meter limit of 100 megawatts is lifted and new net metering rates begin on Sept. 1 and continue until a new order is issued, sometime in the future when a series of studies is completed.
• All existing net metered systems are grandfathered through 2040 at current rates.
• Residential systems will still be credited monthly at 100 percent of retail energy and transmission charges but only 25 percent of distribution charge; and will receive cash credits on their electric bills instead of kwh credits.
• Eversource must perform a study over the next 12 months on the value of distributed generation, focused on solar and small hydro, using a 10- to 15-year framework for the analysis.
The order can be viewed below:
“At this point one potential problem seems to be the lack of any resolution on the important question of community solar for low- and moderate-income customers,” said Kreis. “We believe it is critical to provide meaningful opportunities for all Granite Staters to take part in distributed generation, even if they lack the financial resources or live in the shade or rent their premises. We will consider a motion for rehearing to address this issue.”
“The commission opened this docket at the express command of the Legislature, which wanted progress away from old-fashioned net metering,” he continued. “It will be interesting in the days ahead to see what key legislators think about the results the docket yielded.”