Vermont solar advocates fuming over net metering limitation

Washngton Electric limits net meteringAs advocacy groups in states like Arizona loudly protest proposed limitations to net metering programs, a cooperative utility in Vermont quietly set a new net metering limit that has solar advocates there fuming.

Washington Electric Co-op announced Tuesday that it would limit the size of future solar installations to 5 kilowatts. A system that size will not produce enough electricity to power the average Vermont home, according to a release from Renewable Energy Vermont.

While distributed generation advocates are on the lookout for proposed changes to net metering programs that could slow the adoption of on-site renewable energy adoption, the Washington Electric decision came mostly as a surprise with little reported about proposed changes before the cooperative made its announcement this week.

“Our net metering program has been our state's primary successful renewables initiative, fostering clean energy, lowering peak costs on summer days for all customers and creating local jobs,” Renewable Energy Vermont Executive Director Gabrielle Stebbons said in a statement. “As a result, Vermont has become 11th in the country for solar jobs.”

The state net metering legislation requires utilities to allow limitless net metering up until distributed generation accounts for 4 percent of a utility’s peak load. Washington Electric reported that it reached that milestone at the end of 2012, according to an article in The Barre Montpellier Times Argus. The majority of the distributed generation projects were solar installations, according to the report. And the utility said distributed generation installations have since increased to account for nearly 6 percent of the co-op’s peak load.

Washington Electric argues that buying solar power from customers at the retail rate will shift expenses for infrastructure and transmission to non-solar customers, a common argument among utility companies attempting to limit net metering programs.

Renewable Energy Vermont cites the Department of Public Service evaluation of net metering, which illustrates that distributed generation helps utilities avoid additional investments in transmission and other infrastructure and that the “real value” of solar is even greater than the retail rate in most cases.

Stebbons said he worries the Washington Electric announcement could be very bad for Vermont and its renewable energy future.

“Unraveling a customer's right to net meter would take us squarely backwards from our state's adopted renewable energy goals of 90 percent by 2050 and is shortsighted as Vermont begins the shift to increased electrification of our other energy sectors,” Stebbins said.

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