Greensboro, News

PUC Walks a Tightrope with Net Metering Changes

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GREENSBORO – The Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) biannual assessment of net-metered systems released in May resulted in a decrease for new systems of just under three-fourths of a cent, while compensation for existing systems will increase by just over one cent.

Vermonter’s concerned about the decrease in compensation for future net-metered solar installations offered comments during the regulatory assessment. In a press release following the decision, Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) Executive Director Peter Sterling wrote “The PUC’s recent decision flies in the face of the broad popular and legislative support for net metering, ignoring the unique benefits it provides by incentivizing renewables in the built environment.”

photo by Rich Nicol SolarTechVT’s Nick Goodwin works on a 50 panel solar array at the home of Liz and Chris Steel in Greensboro. The Steel’s installed the solar generation system to achieve a “net-zero” home.

Greensboro residents and Hardwick Electric customers Liz and Chris Steel installed a 17kw solar array on the roof of their new house in the hope of living in a net zero home. Since 2021, the Steels say they “have seen their electricity rates go up twice to $0.1925 per KWH, while compensation for their solar credits is only $0.1508 per kWh, 22% per kWh lower.

Commenting on the situation, Liz Steel said: “There is already a high set-up cost when trying to minimize the use of fossil fuels in the home, but reducing compensation for renewable energy generation and use, unfairly favors the utility companies over everyday Vermonters, whose hope is to provide a livable planet for future generations.”

On the other hand, the PUC writes that it “remains focused on its statutory mandate to balance net-metering deployment with the cost of the program, and the Commission remains concerned about the overall cost of the net-metering program and its corresponding impact on non-participating Vermonters, particularly those Vermonters who are highly energy-burdened.

The PUC seems to have balanced continuing support for present-day owners of net metered systems with increased compensation while slightly reducing compensation for new systems, at least partly due to the increased mix of renewable energy from utilities required by Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES).

The PUC order says, “This concern is not abstract. As noted above, the increased blended residential rate approved as part of this order will result in an approximately 7.33% increase to the compensation rate for most existing net-metering systems, costs that will ultimately be passed on to ratepayers who do not participate in the net-metering program.

The ISO New England website indicates “the average . . . price for wholesale power in New England in 2023 was $35.70 per megawatt-hour.” That equates to just 3.57 cents per kWh. A savings to utilities purchasing power of more than 15 cents over the rate paid to existing net metered solar customers $0.18398/kWh.

New installations will see an overall reduction of approximately three quarters of a cent due to a reduction in another credit.

“The Public Utilities Commission’s cut to the net metering program is a step in the wrong direction if Vermont wants to encourage rooftop solar,” said Sierra Club Vermont Conservation Program Manager, Robb Kidd, “The PUC should do better aligning Vermont’s policies to make it more financially achievable for everyday Vermonters to install solar.”

The PUC walks a tightrope, acknowledging such comments and suggesting, “arguments raised by commenters in this proceeding about the RES and climate change miss the point of today’s decision, which is that net-metering is not the only way to meet Vermont’s renewable energy and climate requirements and it is not the least-cost way to do so.”

Their point being, as Vermont utilities rely more on renewable energy to meet RES goals, the need for small, local, home-based systems adding power to the grid at residential rates, becomes less important.

Liz Steel suggests there are bigger factors at play, saying, “I do get that net-metering is a complex system, but the answer is not to reduce compensation because it is a more costly source of energy today. Electricity demand is only going in one direction as we know, and having more local sources of electricity generation with storage capacity will be hugely important to rural communities.”

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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