NH net metering under review

Friday, July 1, 2016

New Hampshire utility regulators have paused their review of a utility’s proposed changes to rates for customers with solar and other distributed energy resources, pending a more holistic review of the state’s net metering policy. Interest now focuses on Docket DE 16-576, in which the Commission may develop new alternative net metering tariffs or other regulatory mechanisms applicable to customer-sited generation.

Under New Hampshire law, the net energy metering section of the Limited Electrical Energy Producers Act, each electric distribution utility must make standard tariffs providing for net energy metering available to eligible customer-generators in accordance Public Utilities Commission regulation.

On April 29, 2016, distribution company Unitil Energy Systems, Inc. (Unitil) filed a petition to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission seeking authority to, among other things, implement new permanent delivery rates for distribution service, beginning June 1, 2016. Among Unitil’s proposed changes was a new tariff schedule for Domestic Distributed Energy Resources, called Schedule DDER, applicable to certain residential customers with renewable distributed generation systems installed behind the retail meter. If adopted, it would change how Unitil’s customers may net meter solar panels and other eligible distributed generation.

Changes to net metering policy can be controversial.  Consumers and solar advocates typically support net metering as a key incentive for solar project development, even if it might undercompensate consumers relative to the value of solar.  But some utilities oppose net metering, arguing that it hurts their revenues or shifts costs to customers without solar panels.  Debate over the issue led the New Hampshire legislature to enact a net metering bill, House Bill 1116, earlier this year. Signed by Governor Hassan on May 2, 2016, House Bill 1116 amended several provisions of RSA 362-A:9.

Among the new statutory language is new paragraph XVI, requiring the Commission, within a ten month period, to initiate and conclude a proceeding to develop new alternative net metering tariffs, which may include other regulatory mechanisms and tariffs, taking into consideration a number of specified factors deemed relevant to such development. By Order of Notice issued on May 19, 2016, the Commission opened Docket DE 16-576 to conduct this holistic review of net metering.  That case remains ongoing.

Given the overlap between the holistic net metering case and Unitil’s proposed Schedule DDER, on June 9, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission issued an order suspending the investigation of, and staying any litigation regarding, Unitil’s proposed tariff schedule. In its June 9 order suspending the investigation, the Commission concluded that “it it would be inconsistent with the intent of HB 1116 and would represent an inefficient allocation of limited Staff, stakeholder, and Unitil ratepayer resources to address rate design proposals directly affecting net-metered customer-generators in this proceeding as well as in Docket DE 16-576.”

In the Commission’s words, it initiated Docket DE 16-576 based on the legislative mandate “to conduct a proceeding involving all regulated electric distribution utilities to develop new alternative net metering tariffs, which may include other regulatory mechanisms.” Noting that Schedule DDER is effectively a net metering tariff, the Commission found that separately reviewing, evaluating, and litigating Schedule DDER in both the Unitil docket and Docket DE 16-576 would impose additional burdens on the limited resources of Staff and its consultant, as well as on those of other parties and stakeholders, and “could result in conflicting schedules, redundant discovery, and potentially inconsistent results in the separate proceedings.”

The Commission noted that under the HB 1116 amendments to the net metering law, “net metering will continue indefinitely and without limit, unless and until otherwise determined by the Commission in the proceeding we have opened as Docket DE 16-576… In effect, customer -generators will continue to participate in net metering under RSA 362-A:9 even in excess of the 100 megawatt “cap,” but those above this statutory limit ultimately will be subject to the new alternative net metering tariffs approved by the Commission in Docket DE 16-576.”

Accordingly, the Commission placed the suspension and stay of the Unitil case in effect until the completion of Docket DE 16-576.  The net metering review in that case remains pending, with a schedule set through the coming winter.

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