Blog : Solar Energy Advocates Call for Net Metering Cap Raise

By Anne | Oct 7, 2015 | in
 
By Michael McCord
 
Two local alternative energy business owners are part of a growing chorus pushing the New Hampshire legislature to change the state’s net metering law.  To not expand the legal cap, advocates says, would put a serious economic damper on renewable energy growth in the state.
 
“The shame in all of this is that the message clearly didn’t get across to the legislature during the last session,” said Andrew Kellar, the founder of NHsolarGarden.com, the Stratham-based developer of solar energy projects. Kellar acknowledged that the political fight over the state budget was the top priority but said the lack of action could have consequences. “The inaction could lead to projects potentially evaporating,” he said.
 
Jack Bingham, the owner of Seacoast Energy in Barrington, has met with local representatives from both political parties to educate and emphasize the importance of increasing the net metering cap.  
 
“There are a whole host of issues here but the most important one is that neighboring states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New York have a very different posture,” Bingham said. “They don’t have caps or if they do, and they are much hig
her. Vermont pays a feed-in tariff of five to six cents above retail to encourage growth. The cap in New Hampshire stifles alternative energy growth.”
 
The concept of net metering has caught on nationally and works like this at the basic level: it allows those who generate their own power to sell excessive use to utilities. This billing arrangement allows renewable energy generation systems to spin the electric meter backward when the system is producing more electricity than is being used onsite, thereby exporting electricity to the grid for others to use. The customer receives a credit or payment for the net exported electricity.
 
Signed into law by then Gov. John Lynch in 2012, the current statute has a cap of 50 megawatts of electricity generation that is divided up by the state’s largest utilities. For example, Eversource, the state’s largest electricity provider, has a cap of 36 mw and Unitil has a 6 MW cap. When all the cap limits reached – which could happen at any time by the end of this year – it means the utilities are not required to buy excess power generated by local alternative energy generators. 
 
Kate Epsen, executive director of the NH CleanTech Council, understands that for some in the legislature this is a “niche” issue but it’s critical for scores of municipalities and land owners who are in the process of either moving forward with solar projects or in the early planning stages.
 
“Net metering is pro-consumer, especially at this time of high electricity rates, because it allows us to control and stabilize our own electricity costs through homegrown energy resources,” Epsen explained.  She added that net metering has led to the ongoing growth of the clean energy sector and helps deploy a clean energy supply often at times of peak demand when power is most costly.
 
Epsen said there is bipartisan support in the legislature to expand the cap but how fast they move and how much the cap is expanded remains to be seen. At a minimum, Kellar would like to see it increased to 100 MW because he has no doubt the demand is there. It’s especially important because tax credits will begin to sunset or decrease at the end of 2016. The cap is also impacting the growth of ‘group net metering’ which allows individual consumers to join together and secure alternative energy.
 
“When you consider how long it can take to get a project going from the planning stages through permitting, it’s important to get this settled quickly,” said Kellar whose company has major ongoing projects in Franklin and Somersworth. “As it stands now, I am being put in the position of picking winners and losers among towns and others who want to invest in solar energy due to the fact that we have far more demand than capacity. The loss of a 25 percent return on investment can be the difference between a project moving forward or not.”
 
Jack Bingham recently helped implement a major solar project with Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood. He has witnessed the fight for alternative energy development over the past three to four decades. “We’ve had the same utility model for the past 100 years and it needs to change,” he explained. “When they were building interstate highways back in the 1950s, the debate was about what would become of the steam locomotive. I have worked through a few technological revolutions and in the end, technology always wins. The utilities and others who don’t want to change are fighting a losing battle because the technology and economics of alternative energy have never made more sense than they do now.”
 
According to a new report by Environment New Hampshire Research & Policy Center, per capita solar capacity grew 149 percent in New Hampshire last year. The report noted that the growth rate put the state 3rd in the country for solar power capacity per person added in 2014. Of the top 10 states listed in the report – Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina – all have renewable energy requirements, and nine have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid and sell back their excess power.
 
Learn about NHsolargarden here and Seacoast Energy here.