Future of net metering being mapped out in Vermont

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BRATTLEBORO >> Several applications for local projects were dismissed by the Public Service Board without prejudice due to the state's 15 percent cap on net metering for Vermont electric distribution companies.

"We're in transition now," Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said Tuesday. "The net-metering cap was met late last year but the board is in the process of finishing a rule to allow net metering to continue."

Net metering involves the measurement of difference between electricity supplied to a customer and the electricity that is fed back to the grid by a net metering system during a customer's billing period. The current rule in Vermont still allows for net-metering systems on roofs and homes.

On June 30, the board proposed a final net-metering rule that will need approval from the Legislature. The rule is expected to be revised by Jan. 1, 2017.

Green Mountain Power reached the cap in November and could not longer connect community-scale solar projects to the electric grid. But last month, the board allowed the company to add 7.5 megawatts of new solar to the grid.

"It looks like they've approved up to 50 150 kilowatt systems that were pending based on Green Mountain Power's request," Recchia said. "Those will occur in the next few months."

The PSB proposed that the new rule make net metering available to any customer or group on a first-come, first-serve basis unless "the cumulative capacity of interconnection requests for net-metered systems submitted to the electric company in the current calendar year exceeds 4 percent of the electric company's peak demand for the most recent calendar year that data is available."

Recently dismissed applications for certificates of public good with local connections include World Community Solar Three for a 150 kW system in Brattleboro, Allard Lumber Company for a 149 kW system in Dummerston, DuGrenier Community Solar for a 150 kW system in Townshend, Small Meadows Community Solar for a 150 kW system in Putney, World Learning Community Solar Two for a 150 kW system in Vernon and the same company for a 150 kW system in Putney.

Each order mentioned the board's granting GMP's request on June 24.

"The board permitted GMP to adopt certain criteria that a net-metering applicant must need to participate in the GMP Supplemental Net-Metering Program," all the orders stated.

But each one had different date on which the applicants filed their interconnection requests. Those dates came after the power company hit its cap, the orders said before dismissing the applications without prejudice to refile. The applicants were provided with information and criteria to participate in GMP's new program.

The company will start accepting applications on July 11. The deadline for submissions is 10 days later.

"We reached the cap and we wanted to find a way to continue, to a certain extent, to let some additional net-metering customers in," said Dorothy Schnure, GMP spokeswoman. "It seems a very workable process that the board approved. I think it's very good."

Before getting approval, the company created a solar map that shows where solar projects are located and being sited. It can be found on greenmountainpower.com, The map is intended to inform people where there is more capacity for new solar and places on the grid nearing full capacity.

Feedback on the proposed net-metering rule will be accepted by the PSB until July 15.

Several organizations — Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Conservation Voters, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Renewable Energy Vermont — have already publicly shared concerns about the proposed rule.

"We need to keep moving forward and leave choices and opportunities open to customers, and not impede them with utility fees and limits on what they can do to reduce climate pollution," said REV Executive Director Olivia Campbell Andersen. "The rule has a lot of limitations on who, how much and where they should put it."

She said the rule will make community scale projects more difficult for towns, schools, universities and businesses.

"Those limitations essentially would cut up to 80 percent of the current solar market in Vermont," said Andersen. "In terms of looking at the capacity, it would have a tremendous impact on customers' choice on clean energy and meeting our (statewide) goal on renewable energy and carbon-pollution reduction. There's also an annual cap that creates a lot of uncertainty for customers and installers. I think what customers need is predictability and stability, the same thing businesses need. These are significant investments. You can't make these investments when regulators change the game halfway through the game."

To improve the rule, she suggested eliminating an annual cap and not charging utility fees to customers that previously invested in net-metering systems. Another recommendation involved making rates and conditions more affordable so those systems could be built into the future.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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