Both the Connecticut House and Senate have voted yes on S.B.9, a bill that would roll back the state’s net energy metering (NEM) program, much to the consternation of groups that fear for the future of Connecticut solar jobs.
According to a Connecticut General Assembly summary of S.B.9, “An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Energy Future,” the legislation “replaces the current net metering system with new tariff-based renewable energy programs that generally require the electric distribution companies (EDCs, i.e., Eversource and United Illuminating) to develop a procurement plan and 20-year tariffs (detailed rate schedules) for purchasing energy and renewable energy credits from certain low-emission, zero-emission, shared clean energy, and residential Class I renewable energy sources (e.g., fuel cells, solar, and wind).”
Furthermore, the bill “ends new net metering opportunities for (1) residential customers when the state’s residential solar investment program expires and (2) all other customers when the [Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA)] approves the procurement plan for the bill’s new zero-emission, low-emission and shared clean energy programs.”
The bill “allows customers who are net metering before then to continue receiving net metering credits under the current system through December 31, 2039.” In addition, PURA “must establish a rate on a cents-per-kWh basis for the [electric distribution company] to buy electricity generated by these customers after December 31, 2039.”
The bill was passed in the Senate and House by votes of 29-3 and 100-45, respectively, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, D-Conn., who has lauded the bill – which also includes a 40% renewable portfolio standard by 2030 – as helpful for the state’s clean energy industry. Malloy said in March that the bill, which was introduced by his administration, “makes the compensation for clean distributed generation simpler, fairer and more sustainable.”
On the other hand, Mike Trahan, executive director of Solar CT, a group that connects homeowners and businesses with solar installers in the state, argued in March – in a testimony before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee – that there is no need for a change to the state’s NEM policy.
“Our view is that transitioning away from NEM will be necessary at some point to ensure fairness in electricity costs across all ratepayers,” he said. “Although, numerous studies, including a report from U.S. Department of Energy researchers, clearly show that the small amount of solar installed in states like Connecticut does not merit a policy change at this time. There is no analysis showing how much Connecticut ratepayers not using solar are impacted by ratepayers that do. None.”
Last month, Solar CT and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) led a rally at the state’s capitol to fight the passage of S.B.9 with the inclusion of the NEM policy. The event included speeches by solar workers, legislators and solar advocates, who said the bill endangers more than 2,000 solar jobs in Connecticut.
Stephen Lassiter, a spokesperson for TASC, said in a statement at the time, “Senate Bill 9 is a job killer. Connecticut should not go the way of Nevada or Maine, which ended net metering and lost thousands of jobs. To protect jobs and support clean energy, legislators should defend net metering and avoid any cap on solar investment.”
In response to Wednesday’s House passage of the bill, TASC has released the following statement:
“In disregard to the concerns of rooftop solar consumers, employees and companies in Connecticut, the legislature voted to weaken one of the most successful solar energy policies in the nation and to allow Eversource and UI to siphon homegrown energy from its customers without paying full price for it. This legislation discards a tried and true method of combating climate change: the power of Connecticut’s people to generate solar power on their rooftops.
“As we learned from other states like Nevada that hastily restricted customer access to solar, thousands of jobs are now at risk in Connecticut. Going forward, we will continue to work with legislative and regulatory leaders to preserve consumer choice, the right to self-generation and Connecticut’s 2,200 local solar jobs.”
After the Senate vote earlier this week, a press release from the governor stated that the bill’s NEM revisions make sure that “Connecticut pays a more affordable rate per kilowatt-hour basis.”
“Connecticut has been a national leader in policies designed to combat the effects of climate change, and this bill is no exception,” Malloy said in the release. “By promoting clean, renewable energy, we will not only reduce our overall emissions, we will create good jobs in the green economy.”
However, in a letter recently sent to lawmakers, Solar CT argued that “cost-shift claims are used across America to convince lawmakers to make premature changes to net metering policies.”
Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), chimed in following the Senate vote, also voicing the group’s concerns about the legislation.
“While we are in favor of legislation that genuinely advances solar energy, we have concerns about this bill,” he said. “We support stronger renewable portfolio standards, yet it is not clear to what extent the bill would open significant large-scale or community solar markets. And importantly, any approach that doesn’t also protect customer choice and provide for reasonable compensation for the value of customer-generated electricity is not acceptable.
“As other states in New England and across the United States have shown, strong rooftop solar policies – paired with real opportunity for utility-scale and community solar projects – create jobs, stimulates economic growth and give consumers ways to save money.’
He added, “In order for this bill to truly represent the values of Constitution State residents, it must include strong RPS and community solar provisions and refrain from gutting net energy metering. We are concerned that this particular approach falls short, and it should not be considered a model in Connecticut or anywhere else.”
In a recent report, Vote Solar warned that states thinking about ending NEM should take a look at Nevada, where the rooftop solar industry is thriving once again following policy changes in 2017 that reinstated NEM and thus put the solar market back on track.
Regarding the passage of S.B.9, Sean Garren, Vote Solar’s senior northeast director, calls the bill “sadly misguided.”
“Connecticut pays some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, and rooftop solar investment provides a much-needed opportunity for families and businesses to manage those bills while lowering the overall cost of the utility system for everyone – and helping us fight climate change, as well,” Garren says in a statement. “There is no question that S.B.9 will have a significant negative impact on Connecticut. Experience in other states like Nevada that have made similar anti-solar moves proves that this bill will put local investment and good jobs at risk.”
Erik Anderson, a member of the board of directors at Solar CT, calls net metering “the single most important tool that has facilitated the rapid growth of the solar industry across the country.” Thus, he says it is “extremely disappointing to see Connecticut’s legislators acquiesce to the powerful utility interests in PURA who wished to dismantle [it].”
“In a time of increased visibility and intensity of the effects of global climate change, it should be considered unconscionable to do anything that slows the rapid democratization of our energy procurement and distribution paradigm away from centralized control models that support the production of dirty energy and enormous profits for a few in favor of one that can exist in harmony with our environment and the good of the common people,” Anderson continues.
“We may have lost this battle,” he adds, “but we are winning the war and will be back next session to fight for common-sense legislation that will point Connecticut back in the moral direction of widespread distributed solar PV.”