Q: What is net metering and how does it work in New Hampshire? Is now a good time to install solar panels on my home?
A. Net metering is central to any consideration of the economics of residential and commercial solar in New Hampshire. Briefly, net metering allows owners of solar panels to sell electricity they generate back to the electric grid and obtain credit against their utility electric bill. Effective September 1, 2017, after extensive hearings and debate the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission removed the cap set for utilities limiting the amount of solar energy that could be installed, and altered the way the net metering program is managed.
Of particular interest to utility customers considering a solar installation is the calculation of the credit they will receive for generation of electricity. Prior to the 2017 PUC Order, residential customers, with small scale residential solar systems of less than 100 kilowatts, received the full value of the energy supply, transmission and distribution charge for each unit of electricity generated. Under the new Order that took effect in September, small solar producers will still receive credit for the full energy supply and transmission charges, but only 25% of the distribution charge.
Additionally, the Order provides that the credit will be calculated in dollars to be applied to the bill on a net monthly basis, rather than the prior method of accumulating kilowatt hour credits. A utility customer that installs a small scale residential solar project will still be able to offset, or in some cases, eliminate their utility bill by producing enough energy to fully account for their own energy consumption – referred to as “behind the meter use.” The change in reimbursement only effects the amount of credit for energy production in excess of the behind the meter usage.
What does the PUC Order mean for ratepayers and property owners in New Hampshire? At present, there remains some uncertainty in the market for small scale residential solar as the PUC continues to evaluate potential additional changes to the net metering structure in the future. There is the possibility that additional regulatory changes may further reduce the benefits associated with net metering. The Order does provide some protection against further changes for solar projects. Under the order, any solar project proposed after September 1, 2017, will be grandfathered, through 2040, under the terms outlined in the Order regardless of future changes that may be made to the net metering structure. Given the inherent unpredictability of the extent of reimbursement in the future, now may be a good time to install small scale solar in New Hampshire.