The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has joined an array of alternative energy advocates in urging a state review board to reject pending rules that would limit payments to utility customers who sell excess power they generate from renewable sources back to the grid.
Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The DEP argues that by restricting financial incentives, the proposed limits would hinder a successful policy that has driven clean energy development at a time when the sector is otherwise stagnating in the commonwealth.
Those comments put the department at odds with another state agency, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, that drafted the new limits and voted 3-2 in February to adopt them.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether the rules are in the public interest.
The PUC says it is acting out of concern that energy merchants can masquerade as the law’s intended beneficiaries — owners of homes, businesses or public buildings that use renewable energy for their own electricity needs and then get reimbursed by the utility at the end of the year for any extra they send back to the grid. The practice is known as net metering.
Pennsylvania’s 2004 Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act limited the capacity size of alternative energy systems that qualify for net-metering payments to 50 kilowatts for residential generators and 3 megawatts for commercial generators.
Now, the PUC is proposing an additional cap, defining eligible systems as those designed to produce no more than 200 percent of the electricity used on site in a year. The PUC says the limits would apply to new or expanding systems, not existing ones.
Without such a cap, the PUC says, merchant-scale alternative energy suppliers could take advantage of the law’s generous payment standards that require utilities to reimburse customers for their extra electricity at full retail prices. Those costs would ultimately translate to higher rates for other electricity customers.