Vermont officials poised to review renewable energy policy
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Net metering advocates want Vermont to consider raising compensation for solar producers, saying the state is greatly undervaluing the energy the home producers contribute to the state’s renewable energy goals. But utilities have also pushed back, saying the current compensation rates are not sustainable over the long haul for non-solar customers that bear the brunt of energy infrastructure costs.
California regulators Thursday week moved to slash net metered credits by 75% for new solar producers. It comes as other states, including Vermont, are reevaluating energy policies, including net metering.
The advocacy group Renewable Energy Vermont says Vermont’s generous net metering policies are the reason the solar industry has found success in the Green Mountain State. The group’s Jonathan Dowds says compensation cuts for new projects will undercut the state’s solar successes. “Every time the net metering rates drop, it pushes out the payback period for those solar panels, so it means fewer and fewer Vermonters can take advantage of that and it’s actually the lower and moderate-income Vermonters that get squeezed out first,” he said.
But the utilities offer a different perspective, saying the program, is actually undercutting the most vulnerable. “Whatever we pay, that’s what our members pay,” said Rebecca Towne, the CEO of Vermont Electric Co-op.
The state sets the rate for net metered solar and utilities are in charge of paying those producers in energy credits on their bills. Towne says that utility cost is being passed on to non-net metered customers. For VEC, she says it translates to about a 3% increase in electricity rates. “We’re paying whoever is receiving that net metering. They are effectively getting a subsidy paid for by the other parts of our membership,” she said. Towne says net metering when it was created was beneficial and they do want to see the renewable portfolio grow but not on the back of those who can’t afford solar. “Our commitment to affordability means that we want to have the least cost solutions for those power supply sources.”
“Our Comprehensive Energy Plan has called for a review of our electricity programs at large,” said TJ Poor with the Vermont Department of Public Service. Poor says DPS has heard the concern from utilities and is about to embark on that review. Net metering will be included because it is currently the most expensive way the state gets its energy, costing utilities about $40 million a year. That translates to roughly a 5% increase on energy rates statewide. Poor says there will continue to be a place for net metering or similar programs but that they need a thorough review. “We really believe there is a way to move forward with a package of reforms for our renewable producers that continues the pace of renewable energy deployment -- or even increases it -- while lowering overall costs.”
The Legislature has also required the voices of low-income Vermonters to be a part of these conversations as part of the environmental justice bill passed last session.
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