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IRRC Jettisons Pennsylvania PUC’s Controversial Cap on Net Metering

May 31, 2016 By Cheryl Kaften

The Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) on May 12 unanimously jettisoned Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) rules that would have capped surplus sales to of solar and wind power to utilities at 200 percent of a customer’s annual consumption. The limit would have applied only to new or expanded systems, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Environmental advocates praised the move, which effectively blocked controversial restrictions on how much power customer-generators can sell back into the grid in the Keystone State.

I don’t believe the authority exists to create such a cap,” IRRC Commissioner W. Russell Faber said, noting that Pennsylvania law already limits how much power solar or wind systems participating in net metering can produce for residential or commercial customers.

The decision gives the commission 40 days to revise, withdraw, or take directly to legislators the proposed cap – which already had been increased from an initial limit of 110 percent of consumption during two years of review and revision.

The PUC said it would review the decision. It approved the rule by a 3-2 vote in February (Docket Number L-2014-2404361) – however, Commissioner Pam Witmer, who supported the decision, left last month, leaving a 2-2 split among remaining members.

“A key point in this discussion is the intersection of two state mandates: The requirement that customer-generators receive the ‘retail value’ for any excess power that is returned to the grid, which potentially contradicts the requirement that utilities acquire power in a manner that ensures the lowest price over time for consumers,” PUC spokesperson Nils Hagen-Frederiksen wrote to the news outlet in an email.

The PUC said it is concerned the owner-generators will inflate the cost of power they sell back to the grid, while utilities lose crucial funds to maintain the grid. The commission acknowledged that there is no indication that has become a problem, according to the report.

About 10,000 customers are generating electricity on their own — mostly through solar panels — and more than 99 percent of them would not have been affected by the cap, the PUC said.

“Most people are just getting enough for their needs and a little extra,” Fred Kraybill of Point Breeze told the Tribune-Review. Kraybill has solar panels on his roof and hopes to add more to his yard. “This is a good win for solar. But in the bigger picture, we need policies that increase solar.”

He and other interveners argued that the new cap and other provisions would further discourage adoption of solar and wind, which have been slow to expand in Pennsylvania.

Hagen-Frederiksen said the PUC is trying to balance the “development of renewable power generation with important consumer protections.”

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