State boosts renewable energy; Bills allow commercial clients to install 2 megawatts of wind, solar power
Advocates for renewable energy predicted New York will see an “explosion” of wind and solar power at businesses, schools and government offices as a result of legislation passed Thursday that makes it easier for commercial customers to lower their utility bills.
The Legislature passed, and the governor has promised to sign, bills that allow commercial customers that install up to 2 megawatts of wind or solar power to spin their electric meters backward when they send excess power out onto the utility grid.
So-called “net metering,” formerly restricted to households and small farms, enables customers to capture the full retail value of every kilowatt-hour they generate, thus improving the financial payback.
It’s what many commercial customers have been waiting for.
“I’m just absolutely giddy,” said Bob Grant, energy services manager at The Thomas Group, who provides energy consulting to school districts.
“I have . . . 10 to 15 school superintendents who are begging me to bring some kind of renewable energy technology into their school districts, but I am not able to because we cannot find a financial vehicle to help make it happen. This net metering will be that financial vehicle,” Grant said.
Kevin Schulte, a founder and owner of Sustainable Energy Developments, of Wayne County, was returning to his office from Boston on Thursday when he heard that the final bills had passed the Assembly after passing the Senate Wednesday.
Before the legislation passed, Schulte said, he had considered moving his business out of New York because other states had more favorable rules for renewable power development.
“The reason I’m driving back from Boston is that I’m building a wind turbine at a high school (there),” Schulte said. “My company is installing eight wind turbines larger than 10 kilowatts this year, and they’re all in Massachusetts because the policy is so much better than New York state.”
Net metering changes all that, said Carol Murphy, executive director of Alliance for Clean Energy New York, an Albany group that represents renewable energy companies.
New York, which had received a grade of “D” for its net metering policies in 2007 from the non-profit Network for New Energy Choices, should receive an “A” this year, Murphy said. That will rank New York with states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which are considered among the best for renewable power, Murphy said.
“I think there will be an explosion in terms of people putting these technologies up,” Murphy said.
Environmental groups also lauded the new law, saying it would help improve air and water quality, slow down climate change and contribute to energy independence.
“We want to use our indigenous resources sustainably,” said Dereth Glance, of Syracuse, executive program director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Until now, net metering had been restricted mainly to residential customers, who could use it for up to 10 kilowatts of solar power or 25 kilowatts of wind power. Farmers could install up to 125 kilowatts of wind and up to 400 kilowatts of anaerobic digestion generators.
Commercial customers were free to install wind or solar units; but before now they were not allowed to “bank” excess power they sent to the grid. Any power they could not use immediately was unremunerated.
Net metering allowscommercial customers to retain credit for excess power they make for up to a year, using it to offset their utility bills. Businesses can only reduce their bills: At the end of the year, they cannot charge the utility for more power than they use.
Schulte said he is working with the owners of Wayne Industrial Sustainability Park in Ontario, Wayne County, to install a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine. Net metering will increase the electricity savings from the turbine from $300,000 a year to about $450,000, shrinking the payback period to less than 10 years.
“It puts it in the range where we could probably go out and find someone to actually finance that project,” he said.
By Tim Knauss
20 June 2008
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