Solar Net Metering Survival & Progress In Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, & Utah

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Originally published on PV Solar Report.

Net Metering Is in the Air: Solar Progress in Massachusetts and Other States

Net metering continues to be a theme for solar, with legislative victories in several states. Massachusetts looks forward to favorable outcomes despite attempts to weaken net metering there.

Last week, we reported on legislation in Massachusetts that would increase homeowners’ access to net metering in the state. The legislation would be good for solar, and it seems likely to pass in solar-friendly Massachusetts.

It’s because net metering has been so successful, and continues to be so popular, that utilities and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the primary trade association for U.S. utility companies, are fighting it so hard. The pattern is to attempt to undermine net metering through legislation that directly attacks consumer energy choice while maintaining an energy monopoly.

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Massachusetts and net metering

Net metering has helped propel Massachusetts to the #4 solar state, despite its northern location. Solar has been so successful there that one of the net metering caps in the state (which are separated into public and private projects) has hit its limit. An Act Relative to Net Metering (S2019 and H3901) would both extend the cap and establish a study of the policy.

There was bound to be some kind of retaliation, and we heard about it late last week: utilities have filed SB 2030 — a bill that seems to be “ right out of the EEI playbook,” according to Evan Dube, Director of Government Affairs at Sunrun.

The bill is being drafted in an open-ended way that gives the utilities leeway to take it in different directions. As is common with this kind of legislation, some details would be left to the state’s Department of Public Utilities. What’s certain is that it would not be good for net metering, or good for solar.

What’s the outlook for this and the other new bills? If recent developments are any indication, we can hope for good outcomes for solar.

Massachusetts is the latest of a string of states where utilities are adopting the EEI playbook in attempts to control energy choice and undermine net metering. In some states, like Washington, we’re also seeing other organizations get involved, most notably the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Around the country

ALEC and EEI are on a mission to erode net metering around the country. But like ALEC’s ill-fated attack on renewable portfolio standards last year, this one seems unlikely to gain traction. All four attacks on net metering attempted last year were defeated. And just last week, we had several more pieces of good news about net metering.

In Washington State, TASC and fellow clean energy advocates kept ALEC-inspired attacks on net metering out-of-state legislation. HB 2176 and HB 1301 would have also given utilities monopolistic control over the rooftop solar market by blocking companies other than the utilities from offering solar leasing programs. The anti-competition legislation died with the end of session last week — a blow to ALEC, as well as to anti-solar utilities and EEI.

Also inspired by ALEC, Rocky Mountain Power attempted to slip net metering attacks into SB 208 in Utah. Solar industry groups and advocates ensured that no changes to net metering were included in the legislation. SB 208 is now a simple study bill that will look at the value of distributed solar. It is headed for signature from Governor Herbert after passing through both the Senate and the House.

And Vermont was the site of another win for net metering, when a bill passed the Senate that raises the state’s net metering cap from 4% of a utility’s peak load to 15%. Some Vermont utilities had already hit the lower cap and had stopped taking new net-metered power, so the new cap would allow more net metering there. The bill awaits final confirmation from the House, which will vote on it this week, before heading to the governor’s desk.

Outlook for 2014

We can expect more net metering victories as legislative sessions progress in various states. The Massachusetts session goes through July.

Dube has reason to expect a good outcome there. “We are confident in the success of net metering in Massachusetts and the other 42 states across the country that have it,” he says, “and confident in the benefits that net metering provides, and its benefits for the industry.”

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