New Hampshire bill aims to preempt state’s net-metering study

House with solar PV. Credit: J. Runyon

Energy News Network, Lisa Prevost

A years-long study to determine a fair rate to pay New Hampshire utility customers for their unused solar power and other generation is nearing completion, but some Republican state lawmakers don’t want to wait.

At least two bills passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives call for cutting net metering rates now, even as a consultants’ report on the subject is due to be released this spring. Both of these bills are currently before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

“Our concern with both of the bills is that they seek to do an end run around the study process, which was carefully designed and agreed to in the Public Utilities Commission docket,” said Heidi Kroll, a lobbyist for the Granite State Hydropower Association, which represents roughly 50 hydro facilities. “We see these bills as intended to override that process.”

Net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity through solar panels or other resources to draw on the grid power when they are producing enough. Any excess power is sent directly to the grid. At the end of the month, the electric distribution company charges customers for the “net” — their consumption minus the value of their generation. 

Utilities and groups representing fossil-fuel industries around the country have opposed net metering, arguing it shifts costs onto ratepayers. Solar customers pay less in electric transmission and distribution fees because they use less power. Therefore, they claim that a higher percentage is unfairly shared by non-solar clients. Customer-owned solar panels may also be a benefit to ratepayers as they can reduce grid infrastructure demand.

“In our opinion, there’s credit for avoided transmission, avoided distribution, and avoided capacity costs, not to mention environmental and health benefits,” Kroll said. Many of the association’s hydro facilities participate in group net metering, in which renewable energy facilities share the proceeds from surplus electricity with members who sign on. 

One of the bills currently pending, HB1629, would reduce the net metering tariff to the wholesale electric rate from the default rate. This could be as high as an 80% reduction. That would effectively “destroy the renewable energy industry in New Hampshire,” said Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy NH. “The only projects that would get built would be utility-scale projects.”

The other, HB1599 would make a smaller reduction to the tariff for projects more than 1 megawatt serving municipalities. Both sides acknowledge that the previous policy error was corrected by this measure. 

“I get it, but it would also be sound to credit these projects with their benefits as well,” Evans-Brown said. Any cuts make it that much harder to get projects done, especially given that the market for solar in New Hampshire is “pretty marginal” as it is, he said. 

State Rep. Michael Vose of Epping, who sponsored HB1599, argued in favor of both bills to the Senate committee this month. He also spoke in favor. Rather, he said, they are merely “giving guidance” to regulators and putting “guardrails on the growth of net metering costs.”

In an interview, Vose reiterated that HB1599 seeks to correct a mistake, and HB1629 is “designed to help provide guidance to the Public Utilities Commission as it goes forward with the net metering docket.” 

Predictions of a devastating impact are “an egregious exaggeration,” he said. 

Asked why the bills are necessary before the PUC-ordered study is complete, he argued that the study “is not about net metering specifically — it’s about the value of distributed resources. It will have some information in it that will be relevant to the commission, but it isn’t the end-all and be-all about a net metering tariff.” 

Vose is listed in IRS filings as a director for the Ratepayers Legal Defense Fund. This affiliate of the New England Ratepayers Association was the one that filed a controversial petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take control over net metering rates from the states. The petition was opposed by hundreds of people, many who claimed it was meant to undermine renewable energy. The case was unanimously dismissed by the commission.

The process of determining a fair value for distributed energies in New Hampshire began in 2016, when a law required the Public Utilities Commission open a docket. After much debate and back-and-forth between stakeholders over what factors should be included in the rate, the commission issued an alternative net billing tariff in 2017. 

“Ultimately, everybody agreed that they really didn’t have enough information to get any more precise than the default service rate,” Kroll said, noting that several pilot programs are going on in order to produce more data. “It’s kind of rough justice until we gather more information.” 

Importantly, in their order, regulators said that based on the evidence presented and the “current, relatively low distributed generation penetration levels” in the state, “we find there is little to no evidence of any significant cost-shifting.”

The commission hired a consultant to study the value of New Hampshire’s solar and hydropower. The Department of Energy was given responsibility for the review. A spokesperson for the department informed the Senate committee that the report was due in late spring.

Kroll said she is hopeful that the Senate will “see the wisdom of holding these bills and waiting for the study, so that everyone can work with good data.”

This article originally appeared on Energy News Network. It is republished here with a Creative Commons license.