The controversy in Nevada is making headlines – and rightfully so – but solar companies in that state aren’t the only ones suffering from uncertainty regarding net-metering policies. In New Hampshire, another legislative storm is brewing.
SunRay Solar, a Concord, N.H.-based solar installer, recently announced that it was “forced” to curtail its operations and lay off nine employees due to the state’s current net-metering rules.
Michael Fay, managing partner of SunRay Solar, says the nine employees accounted for one-third of the company’s workforce, and although that might seem like a small number to some, every job counts. In addition, SunRay planned to add 20 more workers in February, but Fay says, “That won’t be happening anymore.”
According to him, the layoffs are a direct result of local utilities’ reaching their state-mandated net-metering caps, and these job cuts came after Eversource, New Hampshire’s largest energy provider, announced that it hit its limit on Jan. 20.
Fay says net metering “absolutely” makes solar a much easier sell to potential customers, so the end of such programs can be devastating for installers.
As Eversource spokesperson Lauren Collins explains, the current 50 MW cap for the state’s utilities was established in 2010, and Eversource’s share was 36 MW. The state’s net-metering program covers all types of renewable energy, but Collins notes, “the vast majority” of participating projects were solar, “including individual and group host solar projects.”
Now, Eversource is putting new projects on a waiting list while legislators figure out what comes next.
The brightest sign of hope is S.B.333, a bill that would increase the state’s net-metering cap 25 MW from the current 50 MW to 75 MW. State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who sponsored the bill and chairs the energy and natural resources committee, says in a recent press release, “Removing the cap will not only encourage expanded energy diversity and use of renewable energy resources by homeowners, but will encourage growth in the solar and renewable energy industry in our state, as well.”
However, Bradley continues, “While there are benefits of increasing this cap, we need to make sure that in a region with some of the highest energy costs in the nation, energy customers who do not take advantage of residential solar are not burdened by high electric rates due to renewable energy subsidies. This bill offers a realistic compromise that will keep rates in check for both regular ratepayers and renewable energy customers.”
S.B.333 seems to be gaining support from legislators and solar industry stakeholders alike. Eversource, for one, says it is working with lawmakers to help the bill progress.
“Eversource supports S.B.333 because it will allow the continued development of renewable energy projects while policymakers and regulators consider a long-term solution,” says Collins.
As for a potential long-term fix, she says Eversource believes the solution “should first address the fundamental question of whether or not such energy projects continue to require subsidies. While eliminating the cap may be advantageous for certain solar business models, Eversource is looking toward a solution that protects all of our customers.”
Meanwhile, Collins points out, “Approved projects on the net-metering wait list can still interconnect and begin operation and will receive a credit or payment based on the hourly ISO-NE energy market price. Should S.B.333 pass, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will be directed to determine an appropriate reimbursement rate.”
On the other side of the grid, northern New England solar installer ReVision Energy says it continues its commitment to the New Hampshire market and supports S.B.333.
Dan Clapp, managing partner of ReVision Energy’s New Hampshire operations, remarks, “We have an excellent workforce based here, and we expect to continue to grow once our state’s solar policy is modernized.”
In a press release, the company notes that although it remains optimistic, “the uncertainty about net metering must be resolved expeditiously by the NH legislature if the solar industry is to continue to thrive in New Hampshire. In the meantime, potential solar customers can still file to interconnect with the utility, but under rates less favorable than retail net metering.”
ReVision Energy says its workforce in New Hampshire almost doubled last year, and the company expects to double it again, “assuming the net metering cap is raised.”
But would the extra 25 MW be enough, even in the short term?
Fay admits that, yes, the additional 25 MW raise would likely keep SunRay Solar interconnecting projects and his company alive for a while longer: “We would hire back tomorrow everyone we laid off with good, positive legislation that created certainty for the local solar industry and customers.”
He argues that S.B.333 is “only kicking the can down the road,” though, and Fay is pushing for a much larger cap increase now, not later.
Nonetheless, he warns that if S.B.333 doesn’t pass, “Solar would die in New Hampshire.”
Photo courtesy of ReVision Energy