Connecticut is about to become the latest state to reform its expensive net metering program, saving money for the vast majority of electricity customers who do not own a solar installation.
Early Wednesday morning, the Connecticut state House passed Senate Bill 9 — legislation calling for a reduction in the amount of money solar panel owners are compensated for the energy they send back to the grid. The bill already passed the state Senate and outgoing Gov. Dan Malloy is expected to sign. Despite vehement opposition from the solar industry lobby, the bill sailed through both chambers of Connecticut’s legislature, passing the state Senate by a vote of 29-3 before passing the House 100-45 in the same week. Malloy, the state’s outgoing Democratic governor, is widely expected to turn the bill into law given his office introduced the measure.
Much similar to programs in other states, net metering encourages solar installation usage by forcing utility companies to purchase excess energy a panel owner sends back to the grid. Utility companies typically must purchase this energy at more expensive retail rates, not wholesale rates. The system is lucrative for solar panel owners who get paid more than their energy is worth, but these costs are essentially passed onto non-net metering customers by way of higher electricity bills.
Senate Bill 9 — otherwise known as An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Energy Future — greatly changes how solar installation owners will be compensated. Specifically, the bill provides solar panel owners must sell their power to the grid at a rate to be established by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and purchase power at the retail rate. Customers already involved in net metering will be grandfathered into the current program until 2039.
“It is regretful that the Senate voted to terminate one of the most successful solar energy policies in the nation, net-metering. States like Nevada that hastily ended net metering lost thousands of solar jobs and have since reinstated productive policy for distributed generation. Connecticut must not repeat their mistakes,” read a statement from a coalition of 18 solar companies and environmental advocates who oppose the bill. “Rather than building Connecticut’s local clean-energy economy, the current bill language puts the future of solar in Connecticut and thousands of jobs at risk.”
Environmental groups aren’t entirely in opposition, however, as the bill includes provisions well beyond net metering. For example, Connecticut’s Renewables Portfolio Standard would be extended to 40 percent by 2030 — an increase from the current 28 percent by 2020 target.
“We believe the gains in SB 9 are extensive and should be passed this year. We will continue to fight the net-metering provisions at PURA and then be back next year for a better fix,” stated energy attorney Claire Coleman, who works at Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “Given the uncertain political climate after the elections and the start of the new ‘rate-payer impact statement’ next year, we worry the window to achieve some of the most meaningful climate change legislation in over a decade will close at midnight Wednesday.”
Two-thousand-eighteen has not been a good year for supporters of net metering. Connecticut will soon become the latest in a growing number of states that have chosen to reform how the program works. On May 8, the Vermont Public Utility Commission determined the high rates given panel owners was costing other electricity customers too much. The Michigan Public Service Commission reached a similar conclusion in April — as did Maine in 2017.