You see them almost everywhere-- solar panels on the rooftops of homes large and small. The tremendous growth has been due in large part to generous federal subsidies and something called net metering, where solar panels are connected to the grid and surplus power offsets an owner's cost.
But with the popularity also came growing pains. Several smaller utilities last year ran up against a state-imposed net metering cap, effectively shutting down any new installations. Lawmakers are now trying to iron out the problems. At a hearing, supporters of the program say the state's support for solar must be consistent if it is to thrive.
"If the most active energy committee in the state of Vermont in a town with the highest rate of solar in the entire state, in a state with the fifth highest solar in the entire nation is at almost a total impasse... then we need to change," said Jamie Ervin of Waterbury Local Energy Action Partnership.
Supporters also say the policy must be even-handed across all utilities.
"Net metering from the customer point of view shouldn't depend on what town you're living in or what part of town you live in, in a town that's served by more than one utility," said Avram Patt, the former president of WEC.
Critics of net metering have claimed it doesn't take into account the fixed costs utilities have to pay to maintain power lines and other infrastructure. They say right now those costs are borne on the backs on nonsolar customers. But regulators dispute that. Lawmakers are now looking at a temporary fix that raises the net metering cap and has general agreement from all sides.
"For now you don't want to stop the momentum-- and everybody is agreeable to that-- so that everybody can take advantage of what is in place. And I think the 15 percent cap is what gives the utilities that comfort," said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier.
Comfort to build out until 2017 when a federal 30 percent solar incentive expires and the state will need to revisit the issue.
Tuesday, March 11 2014 11:49 AM EDT2014-03-11 15:49:17 GMT
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