Regulators question Ameren’s math in net metering case


It seems that in every geographic region in the country, there’s at least one state where net metering is under attack. In the Midwest, the battleground state is Illinois, where Ameren has informed the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) that it will be ending retail net metering for new residential solar customers, rejecting a previous plea from regulators to preserve the status quo.

Ameren first announced that the company was looking to move away from net metering for new solar customers in March, when the utility announced that distributed solar generation had reached 3% of its load. This meant that, by law, the ICC had to open a case and begin developing a replacement for the net metering full retail tariff.

In July, ICC’s administrative law judge, Leslie Haynes, brought to question the methodology that Ameren used to calculate the 3% threshold, instead ruing that the utility had only reached 1.67%. According to her interpretation, Ameren was using the generation provided by larger-scale community solar facilities and independent power providers to bolster the overall distributed generation figures.

On September 23, the ICC issued a temporary order requiring an investigation to begin in order to create the proper methodology for calculating the statutory threshold.

On October 1, Ameren filed a letter with the ICC laying out a plan to switch from full retail net metering to a monthly distributed generation rebate. In this letter, the company outright disregards the temporary order to maintain net metering at its current rate until an ICC audit can be completed.

“Ameren’s letter on Friday leaned heavily on a generous and, we believe, false interpretation of the interim order,” Vote Solar’s Midwest director, John Delurey, told pv magazine. “They excluded certain components of the order, they warped other components and they just declined a lot of the voluntary requests that the commission made. Declining those requests and those voluntary actions was not a huge surprise, based on the way the order was written.”

This rebate is set to be equal to about half of the credit of full net metering. The changes are set to go into effect on October 23 and will apply to residential customers applying for net metering after Oct. 2.

1,100 letters

Regulators and solar advocates have urged Ameren not to act until the utility established a different tariff structure for new solar customers. Last week, the ICC was flooded with over 1,100 letters from more than 380 solar customers and almost 150 solar workers, every one speaking out in defense of net metering.

“Declining or completely ignoring some of the language about how they shall wait until the audit is performed before changing net metering was a bit of a shock,” said Delurey. “What we hope will happen is that the commission will provide additional clarification on their order and will underscore and underline the components that were designed to save Central and Southern Illinois solar and that Ameren will back down once they receive those clarifications.”

The rhetoric of solar advocates is that Amaren’s new rate structure will significantly cripple residential solar development in the state, an act that will directly work against the stated goals of Illinois’ 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act.

According to Delurey, it’s not just new and upcoming projects that are at risk of having their financials turned upside down. There are projects that have been in development for some time, ones which are nearing completion, that are suddenly faced with an invaluable export credit.

“There’s a nonprofit project on this really incredible art space in Peoria, Illinois, that has solar on the roof and they believe, because it was just installed, that they will not get full retail net metering,” said Delurey. “This dramatically changes their payback period and their whole reason for going solar. It’s not just new customers that are impacted by this, it’s also those that are currently in the pipeline. They’re stuck in a really awkward and uncomfortable position.”

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