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My Turn: Net metering is holy grail of energy independence

Last modified: 12/28/2015 1:28:05 AM
First, what is “net metering”? It is the process of using a new “smart meter” to monitor and record the flow of electricity at your home, business or municipal building, both to and from your local electrical utility.

My smart meter has been in place in Concord for four years. I enjoyed working with Unitil when I built my net-zero energy home with its associated photovoltaic panels. Without the ability to “net meter” with your local utility by using a smart meter, you can’t economically generate any of your own electricity for your own use without going “off-grid” – as in not connected at all to your local electric utility.

Today, people go off-grid only when it is too expensive to pay for the utility distribution wires to reach a remote location or, for whatever personal reason, they want to become 100 percent self-reliant, with no utility tie at all.

Obviously, it requires a lot more up-front equipment (storage batteries, etc.) and bigger power generation systems to go off-grid and then function much as everyone else does in a home or business.

Stating this a little differently, and being a little less kind to your typical local electric utility, net metering is your only opportunity to make an investment in technology (not always, but most often solar photovoltaic panels) to produce some or all of your own power, thereby not having to purchase everything you need from or through the regulated monopoly we commonly refer to as the electric utility company.

Think of your local cable TV provider as another form of regulated monopoly and you get the gist. Because your options to buy what they sell are generally limited, it is difficult to drive down costs through “competition.” Net metering is your ability to displace their power with your power. And sometimes their power comes with all the bad decisions (transmission, distribution and “stranded costs” ) they ever made. Let’s call that the “baggage,” which is attached to every kilowatt hour you purchase from them, or through them from another energy supply company. Your own self-generated energy is just energy, without all their baggage – at least up to now.

New Hampshire is in the process of extending the arbitrary caps on net metering, previously set by legislation 17 years ago, long before today’s vibrant net-metering market. Some utilities and legislators would now like to see you have to pay for some of that “baggage” described above, even when you generate your own power. The utilities want you to do that for the most obvious of reasons (money and control), while the legislators want you to do it so they can get along with the utilities. They justify this obligation to pay by calling it a “cross-subsidy” from other (non-generating) customers. I’ll call that argument absolute “BS” for simplicity.

Opposing arguments and studies demonstrate that all customers on the system benefit through lower costs created by the distributed self-generators.

Similar studies on customer efficiency investments have demonstrated exactly the same thing, and that too was once regarded by some as being cross subsidized.

A few simple analogies to put this all into perspective: If I typically purchased 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity from my local utility each month at my home or business, and then I decided to turn something off or use it less and therefore only used 900 kwh, I would pay nothing for the 100 kwh I didn’t purchase. If I purchased and installed some new LED light bulbs and then used only 900 kwh because of the new light bulbs, I would pay nothing for the 100 kwh I didn’t purchase. Up to now anyway, if I purchased and installed some PV panels that produced 100 kwh in a month, and then only purchased 900 kwh from my utility, I would pay nothing for the 100 kwh I didn’t purchase from my utility.

All three cases are similar and make sense, right? Your meter doesn’t care if you used less or produced more yourself, it just knows that over that billing period you used and purchased only 900 kwh from or through the electrical utility. Why should the utilities be authorized to charge you any amount of money for something you didn’t buy through them? Why is it any different from simply using less of their energy when you self-generate some of your own? Why is it any different than you putting in new high-efficiency light bulbs? Why is efficiency any different than self-sufficiency? Their proposed added net metering cost per kilowatt hour on your own energy is wrong in so many ways.

Now you understand why their proposed “baggage” charge is actually “BS.”

Don’t let them take away or diminish your only form of electrical energy independence; your only form of electrical energy self-determination; your only way to force true electrical energy competition; your only way to decentralize the previously monopolized power supply industry. It is time to stand up for your freedom to choose your own economic pathway going forward. The same is true for a homeowner or a business owner or a city government.

New Hampshire has some of the highest electrical rates in the nation, and there is reason for that. Who do you trust to take care of your financial interests: you or your local monopoly company? Let your state legislators know that you expect them to stand up for you, as individuals and business owners, not the utilities and big power-producing companies.

We should be expanding and promoting net metering in New Hampshire, not creating more obstacles. Other states and other countries are far ahead of New Hampshire on that front, and we don’t have to slow walk this move. After all, aren’t we supposed to be facing an “energy crisis”? If we have a crisis on our hands, let’s get busy.

New emerging technologies (fuel cells and combined heat and power units) will only serve to keep expanding our self-generation options. Open up the free market and let the power flow.

“Live free or die” is not just a motto in New Hampshire. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue to be played with. This is our economy, and we should demand that if you can’t figure it out, please leave the rates alone. Raise or eliminate the cap, step aside and get out of our way. Our rates are already clogged with too many bad decisions from the past. It’s hard to change the past but not the future. It’s good to be both efficient and more self-sufficient in New Hampshire. Let your elected officials know what you think.

(Harold Turner is an engineer and small-business owner in Concord. In addition to his 30 years of small business advocacy, he also chairs the board of the New Hampshire Center for Economic Policy, an SPN.org affiliated free-market think tank.)


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