Eversource seeks higher fees on customers with solar
Environmental group raises concerns about proposed demand charge
Eversource is proposing special charges for customers with solar installations to make sure they pay their share of the cost of operating the power grid.
The proposed charges are contained in Eversource’s rate filing, which is under review at the state Department of Public Utilities. The utility says the charges are needed because many solar customers produce more power than they use, which allows them to escape paying their share of the power grid’s fixed costs.
The proposed new charges for homeowners with solar installations coincide with a push by the Baker administration to cut in half the subsidies paid by electric ratepayers to solar developers. The overall cost of solar incentives paid by ratepayers through their electric bills has been running at $400 to $500 million a year (or 40 to 50 cents a kilowatt hour), and the new plan is expected to cut that in half, Baker administration officials said. The new plan is intended to spur the development of the next 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity.
Reducing the size of solar incentives and assessing higher charges on customers with solar installations are policies that have been high priorities of Massachusetts utilities. The utilities say they are merely trying to keep electric bills reasonable and fairly distribute costs among customers. But environmental advocates have suggested that solar power is a long-term threat to companies like Eversource, which rely on customers who want electricity delivered to their homes rather than customers who produce their own power.
Eversource says solar homes use the power grid just like any other customer but are not paying their share of the costs associated with maintaining it. With the number of solar installations expanding, the utility says these grid-maintenance costs, which are rising rapidly and total millions of dollars each year, end up being shifted on to non-solar customers.
In its rate filing, Eversource is calling for increasing the monthly customer charge for connecting residential customers to the grid from $6.87 to 8. For customers with solar installations, however, the charge would rise to $10.38 in eastern Massachusetts and $14.55 in western Massachusetts.
Eversource is also proposing a monthly demand charge for customers with solar installations that reflects the cost of meeting the peak power demands of those customers. The charge would vary depending on the customer, but a sample billing illustration contained in Eversource’s rate filing puts the monthly fee at $7.63.
Both of Eversource’s proposed charges would apply to homes with new solar installations constructed after the rate filing is approved, presumably by January next year.
Mark LeBel, a staff attorney at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said Eversource’s demand charge isn’t fair to small consumers of electricity because there is no way for a customer to forecast the fee or manage it. He also said a utility’s costs are never driven by the peak demands of an individual, residential customer.Acadia recommends creating a distribution reliability charge based on the customer’s electricity consumption over a 12-month period, which would give the homeowner an incentive to reduce his or her use of electricity. LeBel – the coauthor of a report on demand charges entitled “Charge Without a Cause?” – said Eversource’s response to growing solar use appears to be an overreaction. “There’s not a big enough problem to go there anytime soon,” he said.