ALBANY – The Legislature will pass a bill next month to allow office buildings, stores, schools and factories to sell extra electricity they generate by wind, solar and other renewable sources back to utilities, key lawmakers said this week.
That change, legislators and environmentalists said, will give a major boost to attempts to spur the growth of renewable sources of energy in the state at a time when the cost of gasoline and other fossil fuels is soaring.
“We look at this as clean power that is grown right here in New York,” said Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The measure, known as net metering, would force utilities to credit the companies for the electricity they send back into the grid – essentially running their electric meters backward when they’re sending more power into the grid than they are drawing from it. And it will also permit larger amounts of credits than are allowed now.
“What net metering will do is encourage the proliferation of sources of solar, wind and other renewable technologies in New York at no cost to government,” Haight said.
State law now allows only residential customers to get credit on their bills – and only a relative handful has taken advantage of the option.
For example, the state Energy and Research Development Authority, which provides subsidies to install renewable-energy systems, has aided only 861 solar and 326 wind projects, according to the authority.
Overall, solar, wind and other renewable sources (not counting hydropower) account for 3 percent of the state’s power resources, studies show.
New York ranks the lowest of any Northeastern state in its net metering efforts, according to a 2007 study done by the Network for New Energy Choices, a Manhattan-based think tank.
The study cited the state’s ban on commercial users of the idea as one the major shortcomings of state policy.
Allowing commercial users to get money back will likely spur a rash of development, said Carol Murphy of the Alliance for Clean Energy, an industry group.
“With net metering, maybe you can get your money back (from installing solar panels or a wind mill) in seven years instead of, say, 15,” she said. “That’s a big difference in payback time, and a strong influence on a business decision.”
Both houses of the Legislature have for years passed their own versions of a net metering bill, but there have always been enough differences in them so they couldn’t be reconciled.
This year is different, lawmakers said, because of the new urgency around energy issues.
“There is a real will to do it this year,” Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said.
“There will be a net metering bill this year,” said Senate Energy Committee Chairman George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Niagara County.
The Senate has passed a net metering bill this year, sponsored by Sen. Owen Johnson, R-Suffolk County, but it wouldn’t extend net metering to wind power. Maziarz said he’ll sponsor a separate bill including only wind.
Bit more similar
That will make the two Senate bills a closer match to one sponsored by Assemblyman Stephen Engelbright, D-Suffolk County, which expected to pass the Assembly this month.
“Energy prices are going through the roof,” Engelbright said. “New Jersey and California have set up programs (to include commercial properties.) There’s no reason we can’t do it.”
There are concerns, however. Patrick Curran of the Energy Association, an industry trade group, pointed out utilities now lose money on the deal since they are required to credit the small-scale generators at the retail price of the power. That’s more than the utilities pay to large-scale generators for electricity.
Curran’s group is staying neutral on the net metering bills.
“The goal here is to promote as fast and as wisely and affordably as we can as much environmentally sound indigenous power as we can,” he said.
Maziarz said he expected the two houses to agree on a bill near the end of the legislative session, now scheduled for June 23.
By Jay Gallagher
Journal Albany Bureau
24 May 2008