Are Vt. utilities limiting customers' solar power? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Are Vt. utilities limiting customers' solar power?

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EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. -

For Peter Plagge, the sun beating down today is great news for his wallet down the road.

"Those 12 panels were attached last June," he said.

He has a 12 SunCommon solar panels installed on his home and is part of the net metering system. Net metering allows him to get credit for the power he produces.

"Prior to this, I didn't know how to get into it. It was too expensive," Plagge said.

Plagge's story is one state policymakers are thrilled about-- using his own capital to produce clean, renewable energy at home.

"Net metering has been on the books since 1998," said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier.

The state says incentives are working with net metering and people are getting on board.

"We're finally getting to the point where these systems are in reach for most any Vermonter," Klein said.

There's just one problem: The electric companies are saying slow down after many customers are zeroing out their bills, getting so much credit back, that they don't have to pay the customer service or efficiency charges.

Vermont utilities are required to credit customers 20 cents for every kilowatt-hour they produce. But they can turn down new renewable energy customers if the company's total net metering surpasses 4 percent of its peak demand. Vermont Electric Cooperative and Hardwick Electric Department are over that limit and stopped accepting anyone else into the net metering program.

"We want to take a breather, back up and make sure the cost for the program, the cost shifting isn't too severe on the whole membership," said Patty Richards, the general manager of the Washington Electric Co-op.

Vermont Electric Cooperative, Washington Electric Co-op and Hardwick Electric Department are concerned the state's net metering policy is shifting costs onto other customers who don't have solar systems and may lead to raising rates.

Richards says of the Washington Electric Co-op's 11,000 members, 172 are on the net metering program. The co-op announced it will limit future solar installations if they exceed 5-kilowatt hours. SunCommon says the average home system is between 6- and 7-kilowatt hours.

"Realistically, the decision by WEC probably eliminates two-thirds of our revenue in that territory," said James Moore of SunCommon.

He says utilities shutting out net metering means SunCommon is putting the brakes on a planned expansion which would have created 50 new jobs.

"This is exactly what the state has asked for-- the utilities need to figure out how to make it work," Moore said.

"It has grown exponentially and that's a good thing. When you have growth, you have problems. And when you have problems, you solve the problems. You don't stop doing what you need to do," Klein said.

The Legislature says this is a top issue for them and will be addressed when they are back in session in January.

Vermont's largest utility, Green Mountain Power, is on board with net metering and offers a premium for the renewable power.

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