Call for expanded NH net metering gains steam

Alternative energy firms, solar advocates seek legislative action


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Alternative energy business owners are among the growing chorus pushing the NH Legislature to change the state’s net metering law. To not expand the legal cap, advocates says, would put a serious economic damper on renewable energy growth in the state.

“The shame in all of this is that the message clearly didn’t get across to the legislature during the last session,” said Andrew Kellar, founder of NHsolarGarden.com, the Stratham-based developer of solar energy projects. Kellar acknowledged that the political fight over the state budget was the top priority but said the lack of action could have consequences. “The inaction could lead to projects potentially evaporating,” he said.

Jack Bingham, owner of Seacoast Energy in Barrington, has met with local representatives from both political parties to educate and emphasize the importance of increasing the net metering cap.

“There are a whole host of issues here, but the most important one is that neighboring states like Massachusetts, Vermont and New York have a very different posture,” Bingham said. “They don’t have caps, or if they do, they are much higher. The cap in New Hampshire stifles alternative energy growth.”

The concept of net metering has caught on nationally. It essentially allows those who generate their own power to sell the excess to utilities. This billing arrangement allows renewable energy generation systems to spin the electric meter backward when the system is producing more electricity than is being used onsite, thereby exporting electricity to the grid for others to use. The customer receives a credit or payment for the net exported electricity.

‘Pro-consumer’

Signed into law by then-Gov. John Lynch in 2012, the current New Hampshire statute has a cap of 50 megawatts of electricity generation that is divided up by the state’s largest utilities.

For example, Eversource, the state’s largest electricity provider, has a cap of 36 MW and Unitil has a 6 MW cap. When the cap limit’s reached, it means the utilities are not required to buy excess power generated by local alternative energy generators. 

Kate Epsen, executive director of the NH CleanTech Council, understands that for some in the Legislature this is a “niche” issue, but it’s critical for scores of municipalities and landowners that are in the process of either moving forward with solar projects or in the early planning stages.

“Net metering is pro-consumer, especially at this time of high electricity rates, because it allows us to control and stabilize our own electricity costs through homegrown energy resources,” Epsen said.

She said that net metering has led to the growth of the clean energy sector and helps deploy a clean energy supply often at times of peak demand when power is most costly.

According to Epsen, there is bipartisan support to expand the cap, but how fast lawmakers move and how much the cap is expanded remains to be seen.

At a minimum, Kellar would like to see it increased to 100 MW because he has no doubt the demand is there. It’s especially important because tax credits will begin to sunset or decrease at the end of 2016. The cap is also impacting the growth of ‘group net metering’ which allows individual consumers to join together and secure alternative energy.

Jack Bingham, who recently helped implement a major solar project with Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood, has witnessed the fight for alternative energy development over the past three to four decades.

“We’ve had the same utility model for the past 100 years and it needs to change,” he explained. “When they were building interstate highways back in the 1950s, the debate was about what would become of the steam locomotive. I have worked through a few technological revolutions and in the end, technology always wins. The utilities and others who don’t want to change are fighting a losing battle because the technology and economics of alternative energy have never made more sense than they do now.” 

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