Net metering of electricity could change


Issue Date: October 9, 2013
By Christine Souza

A resolution approved by the California Public Utilities Commission sets the stage for allowing California farmers, ranchers and other businesses using the state Net Energy Metering Program to aggregate electric meters to produce renewable energy. But the net metering program could undergo changes under legislation signed by Gov. Brown on Monday.

The resolution the CPUC approved in mid-September implements meter aggregation under a framework established under Senate Bill 594 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which passed last year.

This use of aggregation would enable customers of San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison Co. and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to use energy generated at one meter to be credited against other meters. Currently, power generated from an on-site renewable facility cannot be counted against other meters, meaning that farmers must install a separate facility for each meter.

"Until now, any kind of renewable installation for net metering had to be the same size as the meter against which it was offset. Under aggregation, you can site the installation in a location that makes the most sense for your operation, such as on unused land, even if it's not next to the meter that has the most electricity use," said Karen Norene Mills, California Farm Bureau Federation associate counsel and director of public utilities. "Energy from an installation sized larger than the meter where it connects can be used to offset usage from the meter at the connection and any others on the same or adjacent property."

The installation must still be sized to meet the load of the meters for which energy is being offset, she said.

San Diego County avocado grower Al Stehly has installed several solar projects at his operation during the past 10 years.

"We put in a pretty big solar field for our pump. The typical farmer around here, when we drill a well we don't usually get a lot of water, so we drill multiple wells. If a farmer wanted to put solar on all of his wells, he would have to do a separate application, separate installations, separate meters and separate converters for all of the different meters," Stehly said. "It occurred to me it would make more sense if the utility could net all of the generation from one spot on the property and optimally, that would be the piece of property that was the least productive—and also well-hidden from thieves."

Stehly said he believes SB 594 will help farmers interested in net metering and aggregation.

"I've got a solar installation with hardly any extra generation, but it's got a little bit. If I wanted to have another small well or something, I could do it anywhere else on my property and apply the extra generation to that, whereas (without aggregation) we couldn't," he said.

Walnut grower Russ Lester of Winters, who recently upgraded his biomass and solar renewable energy systems, called SB 594 "a great complement to the net metering program, which has been highly successful for farmers and others to offset the costs that farmers have for electricity."

Lester said he plans to increase the farm's solar energy production up from its current 17 kilowatts, and his biomass generation will increase from 50 kilowatts to 200 kilowatts by the end of the year.

"SB 594 allows us to transfer those (energy generation) credits to other meters on the same site. We have an ag well, another meter for our shop and walnut huller, and my house meter, so we will be able to transfer those excess credits to those meters," Lester said.

Although the CPUC has given a green light for aggregation, Mills said, the resolution directed the utilities to submit revised tariffs by Oct. 18 to finalize the necessary framework for customers to sign up for aggregation. Other important SB 594 requirements implemented by the resolution include that any kilowatt hours generated that are not offset by usage would not be compensated; that the electricity generated be allocated to the meters in proportion to the load served; and that aggregation would only apply to meters on property where the generation facility is located and meters on adjacent or contiguous property.

In news that could impact the availability and use of net metering, including related aggregation opportunities, the governor signed Assembly Bill 327, by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, which was amended to include significant changes to the net metering program. The bill would direct the CPUC to establish a new program for renewable customer generation, which would likely include net metering, by December 2015.

Importantly for current net metering customers, the CPUC is required to establish a transition period by next March that determines the rules under which net metering customers taking service before the current program sunsets will operate. Aggregation is considered a part of the current program.

In signing AB 327, Gov. Brown included the following: "As the CPUC considers rules regarding grandfathering of net metering customers, I expect the Commission to ensure that customers who took service under net metering prior to reaching the statutory net metering cap on or before July 1, 2017, are protected under those rules for the expected life of their systems."

The new program would begin when the current net metering program limit of 5 percent of customer demand is achieved or on July 1, 2017, whichever happens first. The new program would likely provide fewer financial incentives for customers than under the current program, Mills said.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.