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Utility Board Scales Back Rates For Renewable 'Net Metering' Projects

Solar trackers installed in South Burlington in a field on a cloudy day are pictured in this July 27, 2011
Toby Talbot
Associated Press
Net metering projects often use solar arrays, like this one installed in South Burlington.

The state board that regulates utilities has set a lower rate for new net-metering projects.

The Public Utility Commission, the state board that regulates utilities, says it has to balance the need to promote renewable energy while protecting customers from higher rates.

The state’s net metering program allows people and companies to get a credit on their electric bill for renewable energy projects.

It's seen astronomical growth, with more than 200 megawatts added in renewable generation capacity under the program over the last decade.

But the Public Utility Commission says net metering is “the most expensive of the state’s renewable energy programs” because the utility is essentially “buying” power at above-market rates for other renewable sources.

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Carlson says the PUC's decision is good for customers.

“Solar is here in Vermont and we don’t see anything stopping that transformation,” she said. “So anything that can be done to make sure that there is the appropriate value and that there aren’t cost shifts happening to customers is a good step.”

GMP says net metering now adds about $2.3 million per year to rates.

The PUC set rates for net metering projects based on their size and whether the project is located on “preferred” sites, such as landfills or rooftops, as opposed to previously undeveloped land.

In the size category that most residential customers would use, projects up to 15 kilowatts, the rate will go down slightly over two years.

Rates will also go down for larger, up to 150 kilowatt projects, located on undeveloped land, and slightly more for the largest projects -- up to 500 kilowatts -- on "preferred" sites.

The changes have been in the works for months and do not seem to have dampened enthusiasm for net metering.

“The commission has received notice of approximately 30 applications for larger systems, to be filed in the next for several megawatts of new net metering capacity,” the PUC said in a statement.

But the Vermont Public Interest Group said in a statement that the decision was a setback for renewable energy development at a time when clean energy programs are under fire in Vermont and nationally.

“In the past year, the Scott Administration has pushed for cuts to Efficiency Vermont, the elimination of the Clean Energy Development Fund, a functional ban on wind power, and a new tax on EV charging – all while the Trump Administration put a tariff on solar panels, rolled back the Clean Power Plan, and attacked fuel and appliance efficiency standards," VPIRG said. "This decision to further slow renewable energy in Vermont in the face of these attacks on climate action ignores that context and the fact that we need to speed up our action on climate – not hit the brakes.”

Update May 3, 2018, 4:10 p.m. The story was updated to include VPIRG's comments and to clarify the lower rates in various categories.

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