Originally published on the PennFuture Energy Center Website
By Evan R. Endres
If you look across the renewable energy landscape in the U.S., you’ll find that some of the nifty 50 have no distributed solar or wind at all. What’s going on? The answer is no net metering. You may also have noticed that Re: Energy has blogged in recent weeks about attacks on renewable energy. Those attacks have been on state net metering policies. Why? Because net metering is absolutely essential to the robust and competitive growth of distributed renewable energy. Thanks to PennFuture’s leadership, Pennsylvania has had good net metering on the books since 2006.
Net Metering 101 Net metering is at the heart of competitive renewable energy, yet most folks don’t even know what it is. I spend at lot of time explaining net metering to the public, and I always use solar as an example. Here goes.
Think of a house that has solar. It’s a weekday and everyone is at school or work. There’s no electricity being used in the home, but those solar panels are producing electricity like crazy. That electricity goes to the grid and the home’s electric meter spins backwards; the owner will get full retail credit for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced. Then everyone comes home and turns on the computer, lights and video games, but it’s evening so those panels aren’t producing electricity any more. Now the home is drawing electricity off the grid, and that meter is spinning forward again. Bottom line: The solar panels have a net effect on the meter and the electricity bill. That’s net metering in a nutshell. Learn more here.
PennFuture’s Fight for Net Metering As part of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS, another big PennFuture victory), the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) was required to write new rules for net metering. This finally happened in 2006, as PennFuture stood up for good net metering policies across Pennsylvania. We had many partners in this fight, and you might be surprised to learn that farmers were the key.
Farmers join the fight At that time, Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry was looking at another renewable energy technology, bio-gas digesters (see great presentation from PennFuture Green Power award winner, Reinford Farm). These systems capture methane from animal waste and turn it into energy. This technology helps solve the problem of animal runoff, captures methane, and can provide electricity for farms. Farmers also had plenty of open space for solar and small wind turbines but they knew that without good net metering standards, they’d never be able to take advantage of these energy opportunities. They joined the fight and made their voice heard with decisions makers.
Victory After public comments, expert testimony, partner coordination, legal maneuvers, and long nights, the citizens of Pennsylvania had a victory. For the first time, utilities were required to reimburse customer-generators at the full retail rate for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced by an on-site energy system. This has allowed thousands of distributed renewable energy systems to be installed across the state. See our E3 release from 2006.
Defending Net Metering Those hostile to renewable energy know that net metering is the key. That’s why PennFuture shines a light on attacks on net metering in other states. We continue to defend the policy and look for ways to improve it. As the grid evolves and technology improves, net metering will need to improve with it. We look forward to continuing our work on behalf of Pennsylvanians to that end.
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