Net Metering Rule Would Stall Climate Action; Renewable Energy Progress

Environmental, climate, and sustainable business groups joined together this week to express grave concern over proposed changes to net metering, the program that allows Vermonters to choose renewable energy.  The diverse organizations are urging the Public Service Board to reconsider its proposed rule as it undermines the State’s commitment to help Vermonter’s increase their self-reliance and decrease dependence on fossil fuels and out of state energy while doing their part to reduce climate pollution.

“Vermonters are aggressively taking action to address our climate change challenges, but monopoly utilities and regulators seem bent on halting progress by taking away our choices, increasing costs, and cutting jobs,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, Renewable Energy Vermont Executive Director.  “We hope that regulators will reconsider their plans to derail local job creating renewable energy progress in our State.”

Proposed policies including retroactive customer fees, an annual market-disrupting cap, and foreclosure on future affordable community solar projects which represent more than 80% of the current net metering market, threatened to crater this important Vermont-grown sector of our clean energy economy, taking jobs and energy savings elsewhere.

“This rule is bad not just for our environment, but for Vermont consumers as well,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh, Climate and Energy Program Director for VPIRG. “Make no mistake, this rule would dismantle more than a decade of work done to build towards clean energy in Vermont and pulls what amounts to a bait and switch on thousands of current solar customers at the same time.”

“This rule would significantly damage the ability of towns and cities to go solar,” said Johanna Miller, Energy Program Director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “It’s the exact opposite direction we need to be going, making it more difficult for municipalities who want to generate clean electricity to do so.  The new proposal ignores  comments from hundreds of Vermonters who showed up at public hearings to support municipal solar and community solar options for Vermonters who can’t go solar on their own roof or in their own backyard.”

“Vermont has a long legacy of working to achieve a clean and energy independent future for our children and grandchildren, so it’s extremely disappointing to see a net metering rule that would make it significantly more difficult for many towns, farmers, businesses, and families to go solar,” added Lauren Hierl, Political Director, Vermont Conservation Voters.

Vermonters need and want more clean, local, and reliable energy.  In May of 2016, hundreds of Vermonters attended the Public Service Board’s two public hearings on the net metering rule revisions and submitted comments supporting community solar and urging the Board to continue a strong net metering program.

“Vermont needs to move forward and this new rule would be a giant step backward in terms of the state’s energy independence,” said Daniel Barlow, public policy manager at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “Home and community solar are growing industries and creating good jobs for Vermonters. We should advance policies that help more Vermonters and Vermont businesses go green, unfortunately this new plan contains little urgency to address the economic and environmental threat of climate change.”

Issues with the Public Service Board’s net metering program revisions that the groups outlined:

  • Towns, schools, universities, and local Vermont businesses can’t choose net metered renewable energy to fully power their electricity needs due to the rule’s limits.
  • The rule infringes on Vermonters’ ability to choose their own energy future, particularly farmers, schools, and small businesses, and folks who don’t own property or whose property isn’t suitable for renewables; effectively ending community solar in Vermont.  Vermont has shown the country how to successfully implement group net metering and now other states are moving forward as Vermont is moving backwards.
  • Completely disregards farmers’ calls for continuing their net metering opportunities.  The proposed penalizing rates effectively end the ability of Vermont farmers to host systems to keep their farms viable.
  • In some circumstances, Vermonters choosing clean energy would actually be penalized for also making energy efficiency improvements or adopting new technologies under the proposed rule.  The rule effectively discourages energy efficiency and innovations to reduce peak demand.
  • Monopoly utilities get to determine customer charges, even for existing solar customers who personally invested early in clean energy and set up financing based on the established cost structure, which unfairly changes the rules of the game mid-stream, and will make clean energy more expensive for Vermonters now and in the future.

“It would take close to a century for Vermont to repower our grid with local renewable energy if the arbitrary yearly cap in this rule were implemented,” explained Campbell Andersen. “With deadly record heatwaves, wildfires, and flooding already ravaging communities across our country and worldwide due to climate change, we simply have no more time to wait to shift from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

The Public Service Board’s Order can be found online at http://psb.vermont.gov/statutesrulesandguidelines/proposedrules/rule5100.

VPIRG will be exploring the next steps in this process and what can be done to make sure Vermont’s net metering program remains strong. We’ll be in contact with our supporters offering more detail on how they can help.