Attacks on state net metering policies fall short

On Thursday VoteSolar Initiative and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) published the latest in their series of annual reports on net metering and interconnection policies.

Freeing the Grid 2014 comes as utilities are increasingly attempting to restructure net metering policies in their service areas, claiming that the policy incurs a cost to the rest of the system. And despite attempts in a number of states, the publication found no instances during the last twelve months where net metering polices were significantly weakened.

“There hasn’t been a radical change in the country’s net metering policies, despite an all-out assault,” notes VoteSolar Executive Director Adam Browning. In fact, during the last twelve months two states – Massachusetts and Vermont – increased the caps on their net metering policies.

“The rationale for getting rid of net metering has not been established by the utilities as they take this on,” says Browning. “They are not making their case with the type of analytic accuracy that you need to make a change.”

This trend of multiple, high profile attacks on state-level clean energy policies in a context where these policies continue to advance is similar to the conflicts over renewable portfolio standard (RPS) policies. In 2013, a report by the law firm of Keyes, Fox and Weidman found that just as many states introduced legislation to strengthen or expand RPS policies as introduced legislation to weaken or repeal them.

However, the conflicts over net metering are far from over, and Massachusetts’ level of PV penetration is coming close to its net metering caps. In many states, such caps are based on outdated assumptions from a time when there were few opportunities to study the impact of high penetrations of PV on the grid.

“We are far from the technical limits here,” notes Browning. “These are all political barriers instead.”

On Thursday, Massachusetts began a process to look at broader changes to its solar policies, including net metering. More than a dozen states are in similar processes of planning changes to either their net metering policies or associated rate design.

The most significant of these is in California, the nation’s largest solar market. Following legislation that set final, expanded caps on the state’s net metering policy, the California Public Utilities Commission is currently crafting a policy for the future structure of the net metering program after the caps are met.