Maine opens net metering inquiry

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has issued a Notice of Inquiry to obtain feedback on whether its net energy billing rules should be modified, or other action taken to affect Maine's net metering policy.

Rooftop solar panels on a Maine business.

Under Chapter 313 of the Commission's rules, Maine electricity customers may net the output of qualified solar panels or other distributed generation resources against their utility loads.  To date, this rate treatment, known as "net energy billing," has been a major incentive for the development of solar photovoltaic and other customer-sited renewable energy projects in Maine.  Most other U.S. jurisdictions have adopted similar net metering programs.

But the Maine regulations provide for a review by the Commission of its rules once a utility gives notice that net metered capacity reaches 1% of peak demand.  Maine transmission and distribution utility Central Maine Power Company gave that notice earlier this year.

At a deliberative session held on June 14, the Commission unanimously decided to initiate an inquiry into the matter.  The Commission's 4-page Notice of Inquiry seeks comment and information on a list of specific issues related to the net metering rules.  Issues identified in that notice include possible changes to the value of net metering credits or the kinds of customer generating facilities may be net metered, grandfathering of existing systems, the adoption of consumer protection standards, and an alternative contracting structure:
1. In what respects (if at all) should Chapter 313 be revised, and what objective is each such revision intended to achieve?
2. In what respects (if at all) should there be revisions to the retail rate components that are netted such that less than the full retail rate (T&D and supply) would be netted, and what objectives are such revisions intended to achieve?
3. Should the Commission consider changes in the current kWh (660kW) threshold for qualified projects? What is the rationale for such a change?
4. If there are revisions to NEB, should existing NEB customers be “grandfathered” with respect to any future changes that affect NEB? Please provide the rationale for your answer, and, if yes, for how long should customers be grandfathered?
5. How can an NEB program be designed to track changes in the costs of distributed generation facilities?
6. Should issues of revenue loss and rate impacts be addressed through T&D utility rate design? How should rate design be approached--through cost of service, avoided cost, or a value of solar approach? Please discuss any equity issues that might arise from these approaches.
7. With respect to the structural app roach discussed in the Commission’s Report to the Legislature Regarding Market-Based Solar Policy Design Stakeholder Process Pursuant to Resolves 2015, ch. 37 (Jan. 30, 2016) (which was the basic structural approach that was considered by the Legislature last session through LD 1649) in which the output from solar facilities would be purchased and re-sold into the wholesale market, please comment on the statutory authority under which the Commission could implement such an approach. In the event the Commission has the statutory authority, should the Commission pursue such an approach and, if so, how should the purchase price be established for the various distributed generation resources that participate in NEB?
8. Should solar PV be treated differently than other NEB eligible resources with regard to any changes that might be adopted to the program?
9. How should any changes to NEB arising from CMP’s January 14, 2016 letter request for review apply to Emera Maine and the consumer-owned utilities?
10. Does the Commission have statutory authority to regulate or oversee lease arrangements or other custom er agreements that involve NEB? If so, should the Commission consider additional consumer protection standards with respect to distributed generation lease programs or other customer arrangements (i.e., sales of community solar project shares)?
11. Please comment on any other issues related to NEB?
The Commission requested comments on these issues by July 22, 2016.  Public comment and information will help inform the Commission's review of its Chapter 313 rules.

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