The Maine Public Utilities Commission has exempted solar generation produced by mid-sized and large businesses from being subjected to gross metering rules, citing excessive costs to all ratepayers in implementing the policy.
In a Dec. 12 order, the Maine PUC granted a petition from Maine-based solar panel installer Insource Renewables to suspend gross metering for larger non-residential solar owners. The PUC also approved Insource's request to require detailed reporting by the state's two large investor-owned utilities, Avangrid Inc.'s Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Inc.'s Emera Maine, on the actual costs to implement the gross metering program.
Rather than provide full compensation as previous net metering rules did for the generation that solar owners produce and unload unto the grid, gross metering offers reduced compensation for nettable energy based on the gross output of both generation consumed on-site and excess generation exported to the grid with the help of a second meter at each resource.
Gross metering, which was adopted in 2017 and implemented in May, still applies to the transmission and distribution portions of energy credit bills for residential and small business customers. The gross metering compensation rates are locked in for 15 years from the date of a project's installation but are gradually reduced by 10% every year for new customers.
The PUC crafted the gross metering rate scheme to tackle a perceived cost shift among consumers after net metering reached 1% of the peak loads of utilities within Maine. Central Maine Power and Emera assert that the growing share of distributed solar generation is shifting the financial burden of maintaining transmission and distribution unfairly onto other consumers.
In its petition, Insource Renewables asserted that the cost of additional metering equipment at solar-producing medium and large businesses is reaching or exceeding $2,000 per company and are being borne by all ratepayers. In contrast, the gross metering charge revenue collected from those larger businesses is estimated at $50 per year for each business. The CMP in 2017 had initially told the PUC that installing a gross output meter and other equipment would cost $500 per facility.
The PUC agreed with Insource's assessment that the program's costs for certain business customers are too costly and offer little to no return on investment for ratepayers. PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy also indicated that savings would likely be realized the third or fourth year of the program and not immediately as previously assumed.
PUC administrative director Harry Lanphear said in an email that medium businesses were already essentially paying transmission and distribution charges through the demand charge. "Therefore there is no inequity or cost shift and no need to apply the nettable energy standard. Based on this, the commission agreed that there is no need for a second meter," he said.
In an online post, Insource said the company appreciates the willingness of the commission to evaluate the actual costs and for recognizing that "gross metering is clearly not effective regulatory policy for certain classes of Maine solar customers."
Insource also said it hopes that the pending final order will require the utilities to include all associated costs, including those regarding upgrades to the billing systems of utilities, labor and administrative costs, and costs for the billing of new solar customers.
"This is the beginning of the end for a failed policy that has thwarted Maine's renewable energy sector [and] penalized Maine people and businesses that want to invest in energy independence," said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, or NRCM, in a press release.
The NRCM and others still want a complete repeal of gross metering for all customers and the state legislature attempted to do just that twice in 2017 and 2018, but the repeals were vetoed by outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
In August the state's Supreme Judicial Court dismissed a lawsuit by NRCM and others against gross metering and ruled that the appeal needed to be heard first by a lower court. Democratic Governor-Elect Janet Mills has promised to fully repeal the new metering rules.