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Net Metering Lives!

31 Aug 2015

Fans of rooftop solar power in Nevada by now are conversant with the net metering debate, which I first introduced in my May 4 article Billionaires Battle for Solar Power Supremacy . The latest round in the controversy took place this week with a one-two punch  first a live debate at the National Clean Energy Summit (NCES) last Monday, then a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last Wednesday.

The dispute is more a sign of solar powers transitional period, wherein storage technology is not sufficient to fully eliminate a solar electricity users need for The Grid, otherwise known as the local utility monopoly. That state of affairs is changing quickly, but not quickly enough to salvage the solar rooftop industry, which has created thousands of jobs in southern Nevada in recent years, if net metering is killed.

The NCES debate placed solar liberty advocate Dr. Charles Cicchetti against an advocate for the large corporate utilities, Dr. Lisa Wood. Both hire out as consultants to the energy industry in a variety of capacities. Because I am an advocate of open-ended net metering I had no difficulty preferring Dr. Cicchettis point of view to Dr. Woods.

Wood started by claiming a special role for The Grid, such as the electric surges required to start up heavy motors. All well and good, but this argument will become obsolete quickly as solar rooftop improves. She resorted to scolding new solar users: The net metering subsidy is the failure of rooftop solar customers to pay for their use of the grid. Nothing could be farther from the truth, because the real problem is that solar customers are being forced to overpay for their grid use. NV Energy insists on paying customers far less for the solar electricity they sell to The Grid than for the power they buy from it.

I was lucky to eat lunch afterward with Dr. Cicchetti, who successfully changed the tenor of the net metering feud at the conference with his new slogan, Storage is the new Solar. This became the mantra of the summit. Storage is the next game-changing technology to be introduced to the energy revolution; solar is largely solved, although efficiency improvements are still needed to get the cost below parity with coal and natural gas. The Tesla and Panasonic battery systems are a start but are insufficient by a factor of ten. That will change as well.

Cichetti completely challenged the notion that solar customers are buying and selling electricity from The Grid. This is not a sale, he said. Its putting electricity in the bank. That grid has already been paid for, probably multiple times. They should get virtually nothing, perhaps maybe a handling fee. Which is what banks typically charge customers, a monthly fee for their accounts; preferred customers pay nothing. Why cant it be that simple for solar rooftop customers? Even Senator Harry Reid castigated NV Energy for continuing an eighteenth century business model begun by Westinghouse and Edison.

Cicchetta told me the next key decision point would come a few days later when the PUC made its own decision on net metering, and sure enough, it did  a middle of the road decision that keeps everyone calm that you can read about here.

The previous legislative session had put a cap of three percent on the number of solar rooftops to which NV Energy was required to provide net metering. That limit was reached sometime in the last week or two, the exact date depending on your source. Legislation passed in the recent session gave further authority on the matter to the PUC. What was to be done about the cap being reached? Continue as is, the PUC said. Net metering lives, at least for now. Soon net metering, like Yucca Mountain, will be an obsolete concept.

You may also like this related article: Billionaires Battle for Solar Power Supremacy (215)
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