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Published on May 21st, 2012 | by John Farrell

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Net Metering a Cost to Utilities, or a Benefit?

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May 21st, 2012 by
 
 
Utilities often claim that allowing customers to run their meter backward (by generating electricity on-site, e.g. from rooftop solar) can affect their bottom line because these customers don’t pay enough to cover the cost of maintaining the grid. In at least one case, however, a utility’s cost-benefit analysis of net metering was turned on its head in an independent review.

Presenting as part of Vote Solar’s Data Not Drama webinar on net metering last month, Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) Joe Wiedman showed the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) erred in proposed standby charge of 5.3 cents per kWh for net metering customers. The utility asserted that this charge – ostensibly to backup these on-site generators – would allow the utility to recover its costs from these customers busily spinning back their meters. IREC’s review of their analysis, however, showed that net metering was actually a net benefit to the utility.

The differences were substantial. While PNM had given almost no value to net metering systems, IREC’s review found that the on-site generation helped the utility avoid energy costs, line losses, capacity upgrades, and transmission costs worth over 15 cents per kWh. Even when balanced against the transmission and distribution costs, and power generation costs to the utility of supporting net metering, the policy had a net benefit of 7.8 cents per kWh, a 13-cent difference!

The following chart illustrates, with the perceived costs shown in red (positive) and perceived benefits in green (negative).

The lesson for advocates of distributed generation is clear: challenge utility valuation of net metering and of distributed renewable energy. You can never be sure what they overlook.

This post originally appeared ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.



  • Ali Sueree

    how are you counting generation costs and avoided energy? That is double counting!

  • Rik

    This is going to be a world wide problem, particularly for us in New Zealand as we propose at least net metering. That is Lines companies fighting against customers feeding back into the grid by lying about the stated cost/benefits because they can charge for transmission and upgrades they dont even provide their downstream customers and include them in their tariffs.

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