Debating the value of solar energy in NH

  • ALLIE MORRIS—Monitor staffSolar energy advocates stand outside a hearing on net metering at the State House March 30, 2016 .

  • Solar energy advocates stand outside a hearing on net metering at the State House March 30, 2016 . ALLIE MORRIS—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/31/2016 2:56:17 AM

What’s the value of solar power in New Hampshire?

That’s a central question in the legislative debate over net metering, a state incentive that allows residents and businesses to sell excess solar power back to utilities.

At issue is what utilities have to pay for that power and its value to the future of the state.

Some business groups argue the rate is too high and shifts costs unfairly onto electricity customers who don’t have solar panels. But solar industry and renewable energy advocates say the incentive is fairly priced and any drop could make projects financially unfeasible.

A bill unanimously endorsed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday would kick the question to the Public Utilities Commission. The legislation gives the state’s energy regulators 10 months to evaluate net metering rates and set new ones, if deemed necessary. During deliberations, the bill requires the commission to consider cost-shifting, the benefits and downfalls of net metering, the effect on all electricity customers, and whether there should limitations on the incentive.

“I want a fair rate,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who chairs the committee.

In the interim, the legislation would double the state-set cap on net metering to 100 megawatts. Two utilities, including Eversource, have already hit the current 50 megawatt net metering cap.

At a public hearing on the bill Wednesday, utilities and renewable energy advocates voiced support for the bill. It has already passed the Republican-led House, and it will next go to the Senate floor.

If the bill becomes law, the battle over net metering rates will continue at the PUC.

Net metering allows customers to be compensated for times when their solar panels produce more power than they use, such as on sunny afternoons.

Small-scale solar producers are paid for that power at the retail rate – roughly 15 cents per kilowatt hour.

The Business and Industry Association, which opposes the bill, said net metering prices should be set at the energy wholesale rate. The rate is based on the market price of energy and fluctuates daily based on demand. On Wednesday afternoon, the rate was about 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Others say the state should look for a compromise between the two.

“Wholesale is too low. Retail I believe is way too high,” Rep. Michael Vose, an Epping Republican, told the committee. “But there’s probably a number in between.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)




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