UPDATED July 11, 2014
An electric co-op in Vermont has joined the ranks of utilities around the country seeking regulatory approval to add fees for their customers who have rooftop photovoltaic (PV) installations.
Washington Electric Co-op wants to make changes to its net-metering program that would include a grid service fee of 4.63 cents per kilowatt hour for new net-metered customers. The co-op which serves about 10,500 residential and business customers in a three-county region in north-central Vermont.
(On July 11, the not-for-profit co-op said its net-metering plan had been approved by the Vermont Public Service Board, clearing the way for the co-op to begin accepting new net-metering applications.)
New solar customers also would have to pay the $11.79 monthly service charge that all customers now pay, regardless of how much excess electricity they produce. Currently, customers with PV installations can offset the $11.79 by selling power to the grid.
Under the new plan, a customer producing 300 kWh of electricity per month would pay a total of $13.89 per month, co-op general manager Patty Richards said, $2.10 more than a non-solar customer. The new net-metering rules wouldn’t apply to existing solar customers.
Customers with PV arrays rated at 15 kW or less would still earn 20 cents a kWh for excess power. Those with systems larger than that get 19 cents per kWh.
She said the new fees would help the co-op cover the fixed costs of maintaining its infrastructure. A number of utilities around the country have requested fees for solar customers, arguing they contribute less for grid maintenance than non-solar customers because they buy less electricity and can zero out their bills under net-metering rules.
The fee plan is supported by a state office
Washington Electric must win approval for its proposal from the Vermont Public Service Board, but it already has the support of Darren Springer, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, according to a report posted at VtDigger.org.
Renewable energy advocates told VtDigger.org the proposed net-metering changes would make it harder for residents to finance solar systems in the co-op’s service area. “If this tariff is implemented, going solar is going to be less appealing to WEC customers because the cost will functionally be higher,” Ben Walsh of the Vermont Public Interests Research Group said.
Renewable Energy Vermont, an industry trade group, opposes the co-op’s plan, the report said.
The co-op has gone 100% renewable
Washington Electric’s situation is somewhat different than other utilities, Richards said. For one, all of the power it distributes already comes from renewable sources, including hydro and wind projects and a landfill gas-to-energy project in Coventry, Vermont.
Richards said the co-op encourages net-metering among its customers. And it has a tiered rate system that encourages conservation by setting a price of 9.4 cents per kWh when customers use 200 kWh or less of electricity per month, and 21 cents per kWh for those who use more than that.
Another factor is that peak demand for electricity in Vermont is during the winter, when there’s less solar-generated power available. In states where peak demand occurs in mid-summer, distributed solar power is more valuable because it can help utilities meet demand without bringing costly generating facilities online.
Still, Richards said, the co-op has certain fixed costs and that its proposal is an effort to be fair to all co-op customers.
Separately, the co-op is seeking a 3.78% rate increase. Regulators haven’t ruled on that.