Jacksonville utility dismantles net metering while pursuing utility-scale solar

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Yesterday the board of Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) approved a new, multifaceted solar program, which includes both to procure power from 250 MW of additional utility-scale solar and slash compensation rates under its net metering program at the same time.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) says that it and other stakeholders were only given 48 hours notice of the changes, which will reduce compensation for electricity from customer-sited PV to the company’s fuel rate (currently at 3.25 cents per kilowatt-hour) for customers who install PV on or after March 31, 2018.

This is a dramatic change from the current compensation at retail rate, which is around 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). And as JEA will be metering in 15 minute intervals, any power not generated and consumed at roughly the same time will be compensated at the lower rate.

“That violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the state’s net metering law,” said George Cavros, an attorney for Southern Alliance of Clean Energy. As JEA is a municipal utility it does not need to seek regulatory approval for these changes, which will stand until legally challenged.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has also criticized the move, with VP of State Affairs Sean Gallagher stating that the new policy “does not fairly compensate consumers who adopt solar”.

At the same time, JEA is offering a 30% rebate on battery systems, for a total of up to $2,000 each, to its customers. The program has a $1 million cap, and the utility expects 500 customers to take advantage of the program each year.

250 MW utility-scale solar procurement

In the same meeting during which it gutted net metering, JEA finalized plans to procure electricity from an additional 250 MW of utility-scale solar by 2020. The five 50-MW projects will be located on JEA land, but the company will solicit independent power producers to build and own the projects and sell the power to the utility under long-term power contracts.

This will add to the 50 MW of large-scale solar that JEA already has under contract. With 300 MW of solar and only 450,000 customers, JEA will have one of the highest penetrations of solar of any utility in the nation.

JEA expects the levelized cost of these power contracts to come in around its current $0.0325/kWh fuel rate. It also plans make electricity from these large-scale solar projects available to large commercial and industrial customers at this same rate, as a pass-through on their bills replacing the fuel charge and in addition to other charges.

This “SolarMax” program will be available through five to 10 year power contracts that will cover a portion of customer electricity needs. Customers must have a minimum annual electricity usage of 7 GWh annually.

 

Update: This article was updated on October 19 at 10:40 AM EST to include a comment from SEIA.