NH regulation of solar PPAs, leases

Monday, September 21, 2015

If a solar energy company installs solar panels on its customers' roofs, and sells those customers the power they produce, will it be regulated like a public utility under state law?  A petition by Vivint Solar, Inc. has asked the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission to declare that it will not regulate Vivint Solar as a public utility, competitive electric power supplier, or limited producer of electrical energy under state law.

Vivint Solar describes itself as the second largest installer of residential solar energy systems in the U.S. residential market, with approximately 42,000 residential customers and 274 megawatts of solar systems installed.  The company describes two primary business structures for residential solar projects: long-term power purchase agreements or PPAs, under which a customer agrees to purchase all of the power generated by a solar energy system installed on the customer’s rooftop; and solar leases, under which a customer leases the solar energy system which is installed at the customer’s site. In either case, the solar facilities are owned by Vivint Solar’s affiliates and financing parties to enable efficient use of tax benefits and low-to-no upfront costs for customers.

In its August 14, 2015 petition, Vivint Solar asked New Hampshire regulators for “regulatory clarity on how it may be regulated” if it enters the state to offer its PPAs and solar leases to New Hampshire customers. In particular, Vivint Solar argues that because it would not sell the electricity generated by its solar energy systems to the broad “public,” it is not a public utility under New Hampshire law. Vivint Solar also argues that its contractual relationship with residential customers is fundamentally different from the relationship between a competitive electric power suppliers and its customers, largely because Vivint Solar’s activity occurs on the customer’s side of the utility meter. The company  also asks the Commission to declare that it would not be a limited producer of electric energy, a kind of generator regulated lightly by the Commission. Vivint Solar also notes that its PPAs and solar leases promote New Hampshire’s goal of encouraging competition for retail access, and customer choice for more affordable electricity, as well as New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard and other clean energy policies.

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission has issued an Order of Notice in the case, with interventions due and a prehearing conference scheduled for early October.

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