Van Ostern calls for hike in renewable ‘net metering’ cap

Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A Democrat running for governor on Monday called to quickly raise and possibly eliminate the limit on how much renewable power consumers can sell back to the state’s utilities.

Under “net metering,” consumers who use sources such as solar can earn credits for putting power back on the grid. In New Hampshire’s 1998 law, the current limit is 50 megawatts and the state’s utilities are closing in on that figure. For example, the state’s largest utility, Eversource, has a cap of 36.6MW and was 8.7MW under it as of last Friday, including proposals that are in progress and those already online.

Colin Van Ostern, who announced his run for governor earlier this month, said Monday the state should lift the cap within the next 90 days and consider erasing it altogether.

“Solar energy projects in New Hampshire are critical for growing good jobs, boosting our clean tech economy, limiting future energy costs, and protecting our state’s beautiful environment and unique quality of life,” Van Ostern said in a statement.

On the state’s Executive Council, Van Ostern supported solar energy projects that were approved in Durham, Manchester and Peterborough, and one that was defeated in Manchester.

Van Ostern said the state needs a solution by the end of January that lays the groundwork for a long-term policy for net metering and encourages the development of solar and other renewable energy.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said Monday that he’ll submit legislation that will allow the state to raise the cap while the state’s Public Utility Commission figures out new rules governing the cap.

One of the key elements, Bradley said, is for the PUC to determine a fair rate to reimburse people who put power back on the grid. Currently, they get the full retail rate, which can be two or three times higher than wholesale rates.

“You can’t give an overly generous benefit,” Bradley said. “We’re trying to protect everybody and encourage the solar industry.”

Acting quickly is important for the industry so it can lock in permits and contracts and start construction, said Andrew Kellar, founder of NHSolarGarden, a two-year-old company that has projects with a combined 22MW of solar power in the works.

“There’s a need to know for the foreseeable future,” Kellar said.

Martin Murray, a spokesman for Eversource, said the Massachusetts-based utility supports “modest expansion” of the cap while regulators tackle long-range questions of how to manage net metering so that the power grid is paid for fairly and appropriately.

Renewable energy advocates applaud the efforts to lift the cap, which they called arbitrary, too small and out of step with neighboring states. For example, Vermont two years ago increased its cap from 4 percent of the total load to 15 percent and is already considering raising it again.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in this industry,” said Kate Epsen, executive director of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association. “It’s a good sign that the industry is mainstream now and represents a sector of the economy that needs to not be fettered.”