As the foundational policy for rooftop solar in the United States, net metering has been under constant attack from utilities. Utilities have attempted to dismantle the policy repeatedly in state after state, and where that fails, they have routinely attempted to manipulate rate structures in ways that undermine the economics of net-metered solar and allow them to claw back more revenue from customers who go solar.
Of course, some states have ended net metering, and when the change to a new policy is too severe, they often end up reversing course and reinstating a version of the policy, as happened in Nevada in mid-2017.
Yesterday Maine became the second state to return to net metering after abolishing the policy, with Governor Janet Mills (D) signing a bill to undo former Governor Paul LePage’s (R) “gross metering” policy.
“For too long, Maine has lagged behind other states in embracing policies that advance the future of solar power,” stated Governor Mills. “That ends today. By signing into law this bill, we are restoring net metering, resetting Maine’s solar policy.”
Gross metering was one of the stranger policy permutations to emerge. The policy both required that all electricity generated by rooftop PV systems be metered, whether or not it was consumed on-site. It also set a system whereby the credits for this self-generated electricity was discounted based on the year of installation – a bizarre, punitive and unsupported twist which appeared to be fueled far more by LePage’s obsession with stopping rooftop solar than any evidence.
Following LePage’s departure from office, the Maine Legislature wasted no time in advancing legislation to undo this policy, and the new bill returns what has been described by advocates as the “plain vanilla” version of net metering that was in place before LePage.
Impact on jobs
Naturally, the change was cheered by environmentalists, including Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), which was a voice of local resistance to LePage’s anti-solar policies.
“The first step in moving toward a clean energy future is not unfairly penalizing those who choose to invest in solar power for their homes or businesses,” stated Dylan Voorhees, clean energy and climate director at NRCM.
“Across Maine, people are finding that solar energy is an affordable option for powering their businesses, municipal buildings, or homes. Unfortunately, the delay tactics and obstruction by the former governor stifled progress and cost Maine good-paying jobs in an industry that’s been growing elsewhere in New England.”
Voorhees noted that the gross metering policy took a toll on the state’s industry. “As a result of the years lost in distraction by this ill-conceived policy, Maine continues to rank last in the region for solar jobs for the fifth year in a row,” noted Voorhees. “We have a lot of catching up to do, but the stage is now set to accomplish that.”
The national picture
According to the estimates from North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, 38 states had net metering in November 2017; however since that time two states dismantled the policy, with more potentially on the way.
One of the two is Connecticut, which passed a bill last May that will move the owners of new PV systems either to a buy-all, sell-all arrangement, or to an option where all electricity not consumed instantaneously is considered exported, and credited an export rate, and many of the critical details were left up to state regulators.
“Hopefully, as Maine goes, so goes Connecticut,” Sunrun Senior Manager of Public Affairs Andy Newbold told pv magazine. “Unless Connecticut takes action, it will be the only state in the Northeast without net metering. Rock solid solar policy like net metering drives energy storage and broader innovation, bringing value to the entire grid and to customers.”
There is less hope for Kentucky, where governor Matt Bevins (R) signed a bill to allow regulators to set compensation for rooftop solar on March 26. Additionally the Iowa Legislature is considering several pieces of legislation that would make changes to net metering including reducing compensation for customer-sited PV systems.
And then there is Arkansas, where a bill signed by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) in March both allows third-party solar ownership but gives regulators carte blanche to dismantle net metering if they decide that it is in the public interest to do so.
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