Inside the solar negotiations
Size of net metering cap hike emerging as problem
A legislative conference committee trying to bridge a philosophical gap between the House and Senate on solar power is making progress, but some new stumbling blocks are emerging.
Sources familiar with the discussions say the two sides are starting to bridge their differences over how much solar developers should be paid for the electricity they feed into the power grid, in part because of pressure from House members and municipalities. A new problem has emerged, however – how much should the cap on these so-called net metering payments be increased.
Under current law, solar power generators are paid a net metering rate for the electricity they produce and the total amount of net metering payments is capped in each of the state’s utility service territories. The cap in National Grid’s service territory was hit last year, and a backlog of projects has been growing there ever since.Both the House and Senate bills in the conference committee raise the cap by two percentage points. Since the two branches are in agreement, the conference committee cannot change the size of the cap increase. But there is growing consensus that the backlog of solar projects waiting to launch will exhaust the two percentage-point cap increase in a matter of months. The fear is that the two-point increase will only be kicking the can down the road a few months before the controversial issue will have to be addressed again.
The fate of another solar incentive is also up in the air. Solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs, were scheduled to end after the state reached 1,600 megawatts of installed solar capacity and be replaced with some new, less-lucrative incentive program. The conference committee’s failure to report out a bill has also stalled the development of the new SREC program. Sources say one possibility being considered is to temporarily extend the existing SREC program until its replacement can be fashioned, which could take months once the solar legislation is passed.