Clean Power

Published on November 14th, 2012 | by John Farrell


A Policy That Unlocks Community Renewable Energy

November 14th, 2012 by  

Net metering is a common distributed renewable energy policy in the United States, allowing individuals to “turn back” their meter (and reduce their electric bill) by generating on-site electricity. But utility accounting systems typically prevent people from sharing the output from a single, common “community” solar or wind project.

Virtual (or group or neighborhood) net metering is the solution. This rule allows utility customers to share the electricity output from a single power project, typically in proportion to their ownership of the shared system. For community renewable energy projects, typically relying on offsetting electricity at the retail price, virtual net metering is essential.

The following map illustrates which states (as of August 2012) support virtual net metering.

There’s some hope for expansion. The California legislature recently debated expanding virtual net metering to all customers, but the bill failed in late 2012. Other states have also considered virtual net metering legislation.

There are other solutions, too, that get away from net metering entirely. Under a CLEAN Program, distributed renewable energy projects have a separate meter, so that consumption and production are independent. In 14 states, individuals or groups can install a community solar project, get a good price for their electricity and share the revenue (rather than, as with virtual net metering, sharing electricity bill credits). All participants pay for their own electricity use separately, as do regular utility customers.

A CLEAN Program has some other advantages, but when it comes to simplifying the path for community renewable energy, virtual net metering is a good step in the right direction.

This post originally appeared on 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 (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

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