Veto of net metering bill puts solar projects on hold

Monitor staff
Published: 10/27/2018 9:39:58 PM

Not surprisingly, the governor’s veto of a bill to make large solar projects more profitable has put a number of municipal solar projects on hold, or at least up in the air.

“Due to the veto of Senate Bill 446, we are currently evaluating the financial impact to this and other projects,” is how New England Solar Garden Corp. of Portsmouth put it in an email concerning its proposal to build a large solar array on Laconia’s capped landfill.

In Dover, which has been a strong advocate of solar power, Mayor Karen Weston said the city is “still doing an investigation into what we can do.” She expressed hope that the situation might change next year if the Legislature takes up the issue again.

In Franklin, City Manager Judie Milner said that some projects “we were hearing about, rumor-mill-ish, I believe those are on hold” while the developers of a proposed project on River Street is asking to be split in two, so it will not be affected by the veto. That request was heard by the Planning Board on Wednesday night.

At issue is SB466, which would have expanded net metering, the system by which solar arrays can sell electricity into the grid during sunny days when they might generate more power than they need at that moment. State law currently says arrays bigger than 1 megawatt – roughly the amount of electricity used by a Walmart superstore – cannot participate in net metering.

SB466 would have raised that cap to 5 megawatts, making larger solar arrays more financially attractive to developers. Because fixed costs for building a solar farm don’t rise much when the number of solar panels increase, bigger arrays often make financial sense for customers that use a lot of electricity, such as cities.

Sununu vetoed the bill, arguing that the cost would be passed to non-solar-using electricity ratepayers.

The New Hampshire House fell 14 votes short of the two-thirds margin needed to override that veto.

The process of net metering helped get solar power going throughout the country when it was rolled out more than a decade ago. Before then excess solar electricity would be wasted, greatly raising costs, but net metering basically allows a solar array to use the entire power grid as a sort of battery.

Little attention was paid to the cost and benefits when solar power was negligible but as it has become more prevalent – solar panels now generate about 1 percent of New England’s electricity – net metering has become more controversial.

Opponents call net metering a subsidy that raises other people’s costs, proponents say it’s a fair way to compensate a source of electricity in the grid that can actually lower other people’s costs by helping avoid expensive upgrades to the power network.

The issue doesn’t just affect municipal solar power. In Nashua, the city owns a hydropower dam at Mine Falls that is slightly over 4 megawatts.

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