With battles over net metering raging in regulatory agencies and legislatures across the United States, on Wednesday New Jersey quietly raised a cap on the policy which had already been exceeded.
New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie signed S-2420 without any public statement, after the bill passed near-unanimously through the legislature in June. S-2420 will raise the official cap on net metering in the state from 2.5% of peak load to 2.9% of total electricity sales. This translates to a roughly four-fold increase in the capacity of solar PV which can be installed under the policy.
However, the 2.5% threshold has only existed on paper. New Jersey’s caps on net metering are discretionary, and state regulators had declined to limit residential and commercial PV systems from participating in the program.
In reality, they blew through the old cap years ago, says Justin Barnes, who serves as director of research at EQ Research. He estimates that net-metered solar has reached 180% of the existing cap, with around 890 MW of distributed PV meeting roughly 1.5% of the state’s electricity demand.
According to kWh Analytics, when you add utility-scale PV, solar met 2.5% of the state’s demand over a 12-month period ending in March. This is a similar level to the average in Western Europe.
With the new cap, Barnes estimates that the state can again double the amount of net-metered solar to around 1.9 GW, which would mean that distributed generation (DG) solar alone would meet around 3% of electricity demand. New Jersey’s RPS is even more ambitious, and calls for the state to get over 4% of its electricity from DG solar by 2027.
While a supportive statement was issued by Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), a Conservative pro-distributed solar group, the capitol has been quiet. The kind of rhetoric that has been put forward in other states just didn’t appear, noted Barnes.
According to GTM Research, New Jersey was the 6th largest solar market in the United States in 2014, with 240 MW installed. The state fell from third place after solar renewable energy credit prices crashed in 2011 and 2012, but has since been growing steadily.
Also on Wednesday, Nevada regulators declined a request by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) to extend the state’s net metering cap. Rebecca Wagner, a commissioner with the state’s Public Utilities Commission, said that existing legislation did not allow any way for her agency to raise the cap.
Nevada’s net metering program is expected to hit a limit of 235 MW in coming weeks. Distributed solar makes up a smaller portion of the state’s overall solar capacity than in New Jersey, as it is dwarfed by large utility-scale PV and CSP projects. Some of these projects sell electricity to California to meet the state’s ambitious targets.
The petition to raise Nevada’s net metering cap was supported by the Southern Nevada Home Builder’s Association, the Nevada chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Additionally, TUSK promoted a rally organized by TASC in support of their petition.
The decisions in New Jersey and Nevada come as Massachusetts is working to extend its net metering caps, which have been hit in some utility service areas. Competing bills in the state’s legislature show different visions of how customer-produced solar could be valued after a state goal of 1.6 GW of new solar PV is reached.