State commission approves net metering increase for Dutchess, Greene, Ulster, Columbia and Orange Counties
By William J. Kemble, 2/28/15
ALBANY >> State Public Commission officials have left in place a December order that doubles the amount of electricity that utilities can credit to customers for power placed back into the grid under net metering rules.
The rules were discussed during a commission board meeting Thursday with the agency only reversing sections of the order that would impact non-residential customers who put more electricity into the grid than used.
For Central Hudson, the limit will be 72 megawatts, which comes as utility officials had asked for the increase because they were approaching the previous 36 megawatt limit.
The order also leaves a request by private installer Hudson Solar, of Rhinebeck, with only half the amount the company had sought prior to the December order. That request was the first of two filings made to the commission last year, with the second coming from the Solar Energy Industries Association which only stated that an increase was needed.
Hudson Solar President Jeff Irish said in a telephone interview Friday that the increase – which represents 6 percent of a utility’s 2005 distributed electricity – is helpful but does not provide the amount of certainty needed to help the industry grow.
“It keeps us going for another year and a half to two years,” he said. “For me as a business owner … that’s not a very good time horizon because if we buy a vehicle, for example, we finance it over five years. So I’d prefer to have visibility that goes out longer than two years.”
Irish added that the investment in employees is another uncertainty of the state’s decision.
“It takes a year, year-and-a-half, two years to get them fully trained and skilled, because it’s a new industry,” he said. “We’re creating jobs. It’s not very easy finding people who are already trained.”
Irish said he has installed about 300 systems and has previously worked on municipal systems in Red Hook, Rhinebeck, New Paltz, and East Fishkill. He noted that installations for single family homes and small businesses cost about $20,000 before tax credits and assistance grants reduce the amount by half.
While a customer will still have to pay for connection fees to a utility, Irish said the amount of electricity put into the grid by a customer can actually be enough for a small rebate at the end of the year.
“If there is … excess power coming from the solar system, it will stop your meter and spin it backwards,” Irish said. “By spinning it backwards you actually get full retail credit for any excess electricity at the time you are generating it.”
The commission did put a hold on parts of the December ruling that would have ended the practice of non-residential developers profiting from utility rate structures.
“There was a hole that solar started to figure out,” Irish said.