New York Must Expand Solar: How Does Its New Net Metering Process Fit in?
Since 1997, New York has allowed customers with certain types of distributed generation systems, including rooftop solar (sometimes referred to as “mass market” solar) and community solar, to participate in net metering. This simple billing method allows a customer’s consumption and generation to be “netted” at the end of every month. If a customer has consumed more energy from the grid than she has generated from her solar panels, she will pay for the net consumption. However, if a customer has generated more power than she has consumed, then that net generation will be rolled over into the next month’s bill and credited toward future consumption at the retail rate—i.e. the same amount that the customer is charged for using a kWh of electricity.
This form of compensation (sometimes referred to as “retail rate net metering”) has supported solar expansion with a simple, predictable formula. However, because this form of net metering relies only on retail rates, which tend not to vary by time or location, solar systems are not always installed in areas where they are most needed or combined with other technology like energy storage to provide additional value to the grid. Some areas of the grid need more congestion relief, some hours of the day have higher electricity demand, and some distributed energy sources are cleaner than others.
New York has decided to move away from retail rate net metering and toward a smarter and fairer pricing scheme that reflects clean energy resources’ value to the grid. The state is now grappling with creating such a system while at the same time ensuring that this transition is gradual and understandable to consumers.
In 2015, the Public Service Commission (PSC) initiated the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process, which seeks to create a new utility business model that incorporates more distributed energy while ensuring that energy remains affordable, resilient, and reliable. Recognizing the need to develop a more accurate way of valuing these clean energy resources, in March 2017 the PSC issued an order transitioning from retail rate net metering to a net metering program referred to as Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER) that attempts to more accurately reflect the costs and benefits of these clean resources on the grid.
The first phase of the VDER process applies to larger solar installations including remote net metering (where the electricity produced from a solar installation at one location is credited toward electricity consumption at a different location) and community solar but not to residential rooftop solar. Phase One compensates these projects using a “Value Stack,” which identifies certain components that together represent the value of that clean energy to the grid. The values in the Phase One Value Stack include certain costs that the utility no longer has to incur, which are referred to as “avoided costs” and which are assigned a monetary value. These include:
- The cost of the energy that the utility would otherwise have to generate or purchase (referred to as “wholesale” energy);
- The amount of energy-producing resources that the utility would have to procure to meet demand (referred to as “capacity”); and
- The cost of delivering that energy to customers, as well as the higher costs of delivering the energy in certain congested areas of the grid.
In addition to these avoided costs, the Value Stack also includes a credit for the environmental attributes of certain types of clean energy, primarily the fact that they do not emit greenhouse gases.
A second phase of this transition (referred to as Phase Two Value Stack) is in process to further refine these values. After January 1, 2020, VDER will also apply to new residential rooftop projects under a new compensation method to replace traditional retail rate net metering.
New York’s Solar Gap
Because retail rate is a more straightforward, if blunt, method of net metering, developers may initially struggle to make an easy economic case for solar while transitioning to a value-based compensation structure. However, if done well, this new structure will allow solar to expand more efficiently in New York, with better outcomes for consumers and the climate. Continued expansion of solar is important, because in contrast to other Northeast states such as Massachusetts and Vermont, New York has relatively modest amounts of installed distributed solar given its population (Figure 1). It must accelerate to meet state and regional climate goals.
New York has set a goal of procuring 50% of its energy needs from renewable energy resources by 2030. As shown in Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030, with further strategic action New York can reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, a target that will put the state on a path to meet minimum EnergyVision 2030 recommends that, in addition to sharply increasing grid scale wind and solar generation, New York needs to add 13.7 GW of distributed solar, more than 10 times the amount that has been installed to date.
Figure 1 – Per Capita Installed PV
New York’s need for more distributed solar can be addressed from multiple angles: first, by making the transition to value-based compensation as gradual and understandable as possible; and second, by supporting solar expansion through complementary programs. Acadia Center has been an active participant in the VDER proceeding since its inception. Recently, staff from the Department of Public Service approved several changes to the Phase One Value Stack to expand the types of eligible renewable energy resources and make it easier for customers to participate and receive compensation. These changes include:
- Removing certain size limits from eligible clean energy resources
- Expanding the VDER compensation structure to storage and new forms of renewable energy such as tidal energy
- Removing location-based restrictions within utility territories
Acadia Center supported these changes and submitted comments with these and other recommendations for improving various elements of the value stack to make it easier for customers to receive compensation and to ensure these resources are appropriately compensated for the value they add to the system.
Acadia Center also supports solar expansion in New York through statewide initiative and grassroots campaigns. One such state initiative is NY Sun, a program administered by NYSERDA that seeks to add 3 GW of installed solar capacity in the state by 2023. The program works by establishing cash incentives for developers that decline over time as solar installation increases in certain regions of the state. Recently, NYSERDA made improvements to the program by expanding the incentives, supporting larger projects, and encouraging solar installations in a greater variety of locations. In addition, Acadia Center is a founding member of Million Solar Strong, which seeks to double this statewide goal to 6 GW of solar capacity by installing solar on 1 million homes by 2023, including 100,000 low-income households. The campaign has been meeting with public officials and building support around the state.
New York must make the leap to close its solar gap, and both regulatory solutions and grassroots support will be necessary. Together, these efforts have the capacity to make lasting change for this key technology.