Strengthening the Net Metering Program
By Darren Springer, Deputy Commissioner, Vermont Public Service Department
In Vermont we are seeing locally produced, distributed renewable energy become a growing part of our portfolio thanks to the net metering program. Net metering allows families, farmers, communities, and businesses to generate their own electricity and feed the excess back to the grid. The program has spurred significant growth in renewable energy in Vermont over the last few years. According to our data at the Public Service Department, since the start of 2011, we have roughly tripled net metering capacity. We had about 12 megawatts then, and we have over 37 megawatts installed or pending today. Net metering’s success is one of the reasons Vermont leads the nation in private-sector “green” jobs per capita according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The most popular net metering technology has been applied in conjunction with solar-generated electricity. Consumer demand has helped make Vermont ninth in the nation in per capita solar installations. Electricity generation from solar helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, solar energy has significant value to the grid in that it peaks during the summer when our statewide electricity demand also reaches its peak. This means that distributed solar energy can help save ratepayers money by avoiding the need for new transmission projects to meet demand. VELCO, our transmission company, has already avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in transmission costs thanks to solar PV and energy efficiency.
During this past summer we learned that several utilities in Vermont reached or were nearing their caps on participation in the net metering program. That led to a statewide conversation on how to move forward. At the Public Service Department, we led several intensive stakeholder sessions that included utilities, renewable energy businesses, and environmental organizations to determine what the best ideas are for updating the program. We had two principal objectives in mind: to ensure that all Vermonters who want to “go solar” or participate in net metering can do so, and that the program accounts fairly for all costs and benefits.
In advance of the upcoming 2014 legislative session, the Department is working with legislators and stakeholders to shape a strong proposal to continue the net metering program. We believe there are opportunities to expand participation in the program while also achieving cost savings. In addition there are ideas for innovative pilot projects that could test new business models for the net metering program in the future.
More and more Vermonters want to invest in their own clean electricity generation. We are seeing growing numbers of solar panels on our roofs, solar trackers in our farm fields, and solar arrays in our communities. By strengthening and improving the net metering program, we believe we can continue the strong growth in renewable energy for Vermonters while achieving cost savings for ratepayers.
Darren Springer is the Deputy Commissioner for the Public Service Department.Prior to joining the Department, Springer served for four years in the Washington, D.C. Office of U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders, as a Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment, and later as Chief Counsel.