This year, the U.S. has seen an increasing battle over net-metering, which has helped make solar economically feasible for hundreds of thousands of homeowners across the nation. But since utilities are on the hook to pay (or at least credit customers) for the power they generate under state-imposed net-metering policies, they’ve been rankling at the rates at which they have to reimburse homeowners for the power they generate. Consequently, utilities have largely been fighting such net-metering policies and homeowners and solar installers are frustrated by utilities’ attempts to gut net-metering policies.
The question now is: is there a happy medium? That’s what a new fact sheet by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) attempts to address. The sheet defines net energy metering as a bill credit that that represents the full retail value of electricity delivered by a customer to the utility. The SEIA believes that net-metering principles are "consistent with the imperative of public utility commissions and energy service providers to maintain reliable, cost-effective service to all customers while protecting the right of customers to generate their own energy in a manner that provides many public benefits including environmental protection and economic development.”
The first principle the SEIA outlined is the right for customers to self-generate their own electricity. “Reductions in customer grid electricity use due to solar generation should not be imputed as a cost to the utility,” the organization states. It also said there should be no statewide cap on net-metering—even though most, if not all, states have caps on net-metered solar. And that net-metering policy should be statewide.
In some states, utilities are attempting to have charges enacted on net-metered customers to recoup what they see as a cost. The SEIA called for non-discriminatory practices in terms of cost-of-service recovery: “Punitive and non-cost based charges should be prohibited."
Utility companies that claim they are losing money on net-metered solar are often dubious. While utilities offer incentives for solar, they are usually supported by a small fee that all ratepayers pay the utility, hence negating the impact on the utility’s bottom line. However, some utilities have seen the demand for net-metered solar exceed the fees collected to support the program.
The SEIA asserts that customers must be adequately compensated for their electric generation and all its benefits. According to SEIA, the benefits of customer-sited generation include a reduction in utility energy and capacity generation requirements, along with a reduction in system losses. Net-metering also helps offset the need for additional distribution and transmission investments, and offers locREalized grid support. Net-metering principles also increase energy pricing stability while reducing air emissions and water use. As such, customers should have easy access to their energy usage and should receive clear statements that show how much energy they produced and consumed.
Despite this, the SEIA also realizes that utilities should be able to recoup their costs. “Consistent with the SEIA’s Rate Design Principles, a utility should have the opportunity to recover its costs of providing service and earn a return on investment as determined by regulators,” the solar advocacy organization said.
The fact sheet also called on installers and utilities to use practices. Among the best practices are limiting system size to annual energy consumption, allowing the system owner to own all renewable-energy credits (RECs), rollover choices, utility-supplied net-metering equipment, education and aggregation for virtual net-metering.