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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.

What’s Next?

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:

 

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

Chart of per-capita installer solar in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York

Paths Forward

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:

 

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.

In Northeast, net metering in flux as states look to reform solar policy

“I’m willing to say it’s OK if you get out in front of it a little bit. It’s not the end of the world,” said Mark LeBel, a staff attorney with the regional environmental advocacy group Acadia Center. But self-consumption of electricity — owning, storing and using your own generation — needs to be protected. “That’s the future,” LeBel said.

Read the full article from Energy News here.

Energy bill still embroiled in controversy but probably heading to the floor

A coalition that includes the environmental groups Acadia Center, Vote Solar, Environment Connecticut, Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment and Connecticut Citizen Action Group, as well as the solar companies Vivint and Sunrun, announced their opposition to the bill in a statement: “We favor smart, simple, and gradual net metering reform for rooftop solar, and not the complex and drastic reforms that exist in the present bill language,” it said in part.

Read the full article from the CT Mirror here.

New Energy Plan Clears Legislative Committee, But More Changes Expected

“It’s definitely got a long way to go,” Reed said of the legislation. She said one of her prime goals for revising the bill is to make sure it “continues the current net metering we now have” for rooftop solar power.

That issue is one of the most controversial parts of the existing bill. The legislation would revise the way residential customers with solar power in their homes are now compensated for the power they produce. Critics claim the change would result in higher costs for homeowners and stall Connecticut’s solar power installation industry.

“Ending net metering would end a customer’s right to consume their own solar power, and would hamper the development of a clean, modern, efficient electric grid,” Emily Lewis, a policy analyst for the activist group Acadia Center, said.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Clean Energy Group Says Connecticut Needs To Invest More In Solar

The Acadia Center said Thursday that while Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased over the past five years the reforms proposed as part of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy “appear to raise significant new challenges to distributed solar deployment that put its crucial climate mitigation at real risk.”

[…]

Renewable power is of particular concern to those who champion solar power, such as the Acadia Center.

“While nationwide, forward-thinking states are looking towards smart, interconnected homes, often powered by rooftop solar, the draft CES recommendations for customer-sited solar are a major step away from that future,” Kerry Schlichting, policy advocate for the Acadia Center, said.

“The new policy package for rooftop solar outlined in the draft CES will create barriers for Connecticut residents and businesses who want to install solar, limiting their right to produce and consume their own clean energy,” she added.

The Acadia position paper stated that the draft CES recommends a cap of 20 MW (megawatts) a year through 2030 for customer-sited solar installations.

“In 2016 alone, Connecticut installed about 90 MW of customer-sited solar,” according to Schlichting. “The new cap would result in a nearly 80 percent cut in new installations in 2021 compared to 2016.”

The group is also advocating for a way that allows residents to bank unused kilowatt hours from their solar installations in a way that benefits all ratepayers. There’s a dispute over how much value to give the solar kilowatt.

The report estimates the value of a solar kilowatt hour at 15 cents, but doesn’t, according to Schlichting, go into detail about how it arrived at that number.

[…]

“There’s a risk that the draft CES, if enacted, would cut the legs out from under solar PV deployment in our state – effectively preventing consumers from having the choice of rooftop solar. To meet our climate targets and continue to grow the state’s clean energy economy, we need policies that enable even more customer-sited solar, not restrict it.” Schlichting said.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the DEEP, said the draft report “presents DEEP’s best thinking about how to meet the goal of deploying the maximum amount of clean energy resources to reduce carbon emissions in the most cost effective manner for ratepayers.”

He said the report is open for comment and that includes comments from the Acadia Center.

In its position paper, Acadia Center said it has four high priority concerns regarding distributed solar, stating each concern must be resolved in the final CES for it to be satisfied.

Those concerns are: continue the expansion of new distributed solar capacity; improve, but do not end, net metering; properly account for all ratepayer benefits from distributed solar; and, seriously commit to a full statewide community solar solar program.

“Connecticut should be heading down a path towards consumer choice and ambitious goals, not new arbitrary limits,” Schlichting said.

Read the full article from CT News Junkie here.