By Michael Bielawski | August 5, 2015
HARDWICK – The state’s 15 percent net metering cap for Hardwick Electric has been reached, minus about .5 KW capacity or too small for additional projects. HED general manager Mike Sullivan said some people contacted the utility asking why HED won’t raise the cap.
“Utilities can go above and beyond the 15 percent with residential projects only,” said Sullivan. “Some utilities such as Washington Electric Cooperative have chosen to go above the 15 percent. The customer contributions to the maintenance cost of the distribution system are included and ours are excluded. We don’t get payments for that.”
Unlike Washington Electric, HED net metering customers don’t pay the $15 fee for general service like pole work and other repairs that other HED customers pay.
Sullivan said the net metering initiative in general was a huge success in terms of getting people on board, building the market and driving down costs.
“The goal was to get people interested and investing in renewable energy efforts and to kick-start the industry,” he said. “That’s been done. The goals have been accomplished.”
In addition to the missing $15 service fee, there were other expenses for HED regarding net metering. HED is legally obligated to provide power, currently at around 7 or 8 cents per kWh. In the end, HED pays around 27 cents per kWh for the power and doesn’t get anything in return, he said.
SunCommon, one of the residential solar distributors for this area, will no longer be actively promoting products in Hardwick. The company’s public relations person, Emily McManamy, said, “A Hardwick Electric customer can build a solar system, but since HED has reached their minimum solar capacity and has chosen to stop permitting new net-metered solar systems,” she said, “the solar homeowner won’t be compensated by HED for the excess power they’re producing in the middle of the day that flows back to the utility.”
She said that means it makes no financial sense to build solar and then give most of the power to the utility without compensation or credit. “While the 30 percent Federal Income Tax Credit exists and is of great value for Vermonters to tap into, the largest benefit of solar is the ability to net meter and accrue solar credits. Without HED’s participation in that program, much of the value of solar is lost, regardless of which solar company they work with or local and federal incentives.”
The Federal Income Tax Credit will also expire at the end of 2016. Sullivan said there are what’s called Act 99 workshops, open to the public, in Montpelier. The purpose of these workshops is to decide how net metering will go forward with the expiration of the tax credit and as well as other changes.
“Until these changes are known, HED has decided it would be imprudent to make any additional investments in net metering,” Sullivan read from the HED website.
In another HED and solar related development, HED determined it will not choose option A for its own 1 MW solar project at the end of Billings Road. Option A is HED would own the project from day one. This project is still preliminary and not guaranteed to happen.
The remaining options B and C have a developer come in and build the project and operate it for 25 years under what’s called a purchase power agreement. Under contract, HED buys the power for 25 years and then it owns it. The difference between options B and C is with option C HED would pay for 30 percent of the power upfront, which could bring down the cost for customers.
HED is also likely planning to invest in another 1 MW share of a larger 10 MW Vermont Public Power Supply Authority solar project nearing completion over multiple locations. This project is also preliminary and in development. Sullivan wants the public to be clear these two initiatives are not net metering projects.
“As a utility we are not allowed to build net metering projects,” he said. “HED has requirements coming in 2017 and in 2032 we have to be 75 percent renewable energy. We’re trying to be pro-active and be on the front of the train instead of the caboose.”
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