Kevin Jones: Beware fine print in solar contracts

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kevin B. Jones, who is a professor of energy technology and policy at Vermont Law School, where he leads the Energy Clinic.

Vermonters are signing up for solar energy in record numbers. With current federal and state incentives, going solar has never been cheaper and is a great way to have a softer impact on our warming planet. Unfortunately, more and more Vermonters who believe they are buying solar energy from local companies are actually supporting fossil-fueled energy and worsening their carbon footprint in the process. Let me explain.

Historically, one of the most convenient ways to reduce your impact on the planet was to contract with a local solar company to install solar panels at your home and interconnect them with your utility. As your solar system spun your electric meter backward, you would reduce your utility bill and your carbon footprint. This is called solar net metering. Your interaction with your solar installer was simple. The solar company installed your system, you paid the company upfront for the solar system and you owned the solar system along with the rights to the renewable energy it produced.

Today, new financing and purchase options are increasing Vermonters’ access to solar energy. These are positive developments, except that some solar companies take advantage of the complexity of these options with deceptive sales practices. While their Vermont customers believe they are getting solar energy, in fact, the company is instead selling their solar energy to a third party, often a utility outside the state. That’s right, if you read the fine print of your solar contract, you, too, may find that you are not really purchasing solar energy.

This deceptive practice is taking advantage of both individual Vermonters and honest solar companies trying to reduce their impact on a warming planet.

 

Since electricity follows the path of least resistance, and for simplicity’s sake, travels at the speed of light, the electric power industry has created an accounting system to track who produces and who consumes renewable energy. For every megawatt-hour of renewable electricity produced, a generator creates a corresponding certificate to account for its production and use. The certificates are called “Renewable Energy Credits” (RECs).

These RECs can be separated from the electric power produced and sold to utilities to meet a state’s renewable energy requirement or sold to another customer who legally wants to consume renewable energy. Whoever buys the REC has paid the extra cost that is required to bring renewable energy to the grid, and has the only legal claim to that renewable energy.

Historically, these RECs remained bundled with a Vermont customer’s net-metered solar energy. Today, many developers are contractually separating the RECs from the net-metered energy Vermonters purchase, and selling this solar energy out of state for an additional profit. Unfortunately, while the developer puts a lot more green bills into their bank account, the energy you are purchasing is much less green than you might believe. Without the RECs, the energy provided to the Vermont customers is not solar. In fact, by proper accounting, it is some of the dirtiest power on the New England grid.

This practice of stripping the RECs from net-metered solar products has become even more deceptive in what a number of companies are marketing to Vermonters as “Community Solar.” While there are a number of excellent Vermont companies selling honest community solar products to Vermonters, there seem to be just as many who are deceiving Vermonters for additional profit.

Recently, at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, I introduced a panel of six Vermont companies marketing community solar products. In my introductory remarks, I discussed what it means to strip the RECs from the net-metered solar and sell the solar RECs out of state. Following my introduction, three of the six companies present admitted that they were selling the RECs separately from the net-metered energy, while they were marketing their product to Vermonters as community solar.

We should be concerned about this practice for a number of reasons. First, many Vermonters are signing contracts believing they are purchasing clean, local solar energy when they are, unfortunately, being misled into doing the opposite. Second, by selling the Vermont solar energy out of state, companies using these deceptive practices gain added revenue, which allows them to lower their prices and increase their profits, undercutting honest Vermont solar companies. Finally, the environment is being harmed when Vermonters believe they are buying solar energy while in reality they purchase polluting fossil-fueled energy in its place.

This deceptive practice is taking advantage of both individual Vermonters and honest solar companies trying to reduce their impact on a warming planet. From what I observed at the Montshire Museum, and elsewhere, this is a rapidly growing problem in Vermont. Where are the regulators and the multitude of state officials who are charged with protecting consumers and the environment?

Apparently, when it comes to solar energy and a warming planet, the cold, hard facts of capitalism prevail for those interested in profit over real environmental improvement. Unfortunately, Vermont electric customers and ethical solar businesses are also being harmed. It is time for our state government to act to protect Vermont electric customers and our planet and enforce our public service and consumer protection laws.

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  • Kim Fried

    Don’t hold your breath for the Public Service Department of the Public Service Board to come to your rescue. As they have clearly shown in the past, especially concerning Industrial wind development, they just don’t care if Vermont and Vermonters are being deceived. They are one of the contributors to this deception and support this “capitalistic” fraudulent approach, indeed they are to a great degree the source of this fraud.

  • Matt Fisken

    I agree with Kevin Jones that Vermonters should be very cautious when outfitting their home with PV solar arrays, but for an additional reason than he suggests.

    I am finding more and more of my clients who experience the electromagnetic radiation sickness also have grid-tied inverters, which, in varying degrees, pollute the 60Hz AC power throughout a home with high frequency transients and harmonics.

    This phenomenon is also referred to (ironically) as Dirty Electricity and has been shown to be more biologically effective than the relatively clean alternating current that utilities typically provide.

    Not only are these inverters reducing the power quality in the homes with solar, but also in the homes of customers who share a transformer with a grid-tied solar customer.

    This is the solar industry’s “dirty” little secret, which it will of course deny and I’m sure a couple of regular commenters will pounce at the opportunity to cry “junk science!” However, as long as this problem is ignored, it will continue to grow.

    For anyone who has an inverter tied to their home’s AC wiring, it behooves you to purchase a simple, inexpensive device called a Graham-Stetzer meter. It will tell you just how polluted your wiring is. For comparison, you can temporarily disconnect your inverter from the main panel and see what the levels are coming in from the grid. Some inverters are worse than others.

    One would assume this problem is only happening during the day, when the panels are producing power, but this isn’t the case. As long as the inverter is connected and powering circuits (even if that power is from the grid), power quality degradation will take place, resulting in disrupted sleep, reduced melatonin production, increased risk of cancer and host of other ailments.

    Of course, you could go see your doctor, who will happily prescribe you something-or-other to mask the symptoms of radiation sickness, but getting at the cause is always a better option.

    There are many ways to take advantage of the sun’s free energy and reduce your carbon footprint, but the way PV systems dramatically change the electromagnetic climate in your home (and for your neighbors) can make grid-tied solar a poor choice.

    If your solar contract doesn’t include a clause requiring the system to not have significant effect on power quality, I wouldn’t sign it.

    • Jason Wells

      Yes junk science indeed. This dirty power has NOTHING to do with grid tied inverters and only to do with older cheaper modified sine wave inverters. Grid tied inverters are required by utilities to meet certain UL standards and must be true sine wave inverters most often these inverters produce power that is closer to a perfect sine wave than the utility provides!!

      “One would assume this problem is only happening during the day, when the panels are producing power, but this isn’t the case. As long as the inverter is connected and powering circuits (even if that power is from the grid), power quality degradation will take place, resulting in disrupted sleep, reduced melatonin production, increased risk of cancer and host of other ailments.”

      The above quote from your comment is wrong again completely wrong. An inverter converts dc to ac power the dc coming from the panels so at night when there is no sun there is NO dc to power the inverter. The inverter in a no sun or no dc power condition either switches off or passes the utility power straight through to the house wiring bypassing the inverter.

      These facts really are not debatable go ahead and check the specs on some inverters and read up on their operation. Try the Xantrex or outback power systems web sites they freely provide wiring schematics and operational literature.

  • Roger Gillim

    So who are the three companies that do, and who are the three that don’t?

    • John Perry

      Right on. What good is the story if we don’t know which companies to boycott?

    • Achyut Shresth

      Instead of disclosing the names, the right question to ask your solar companies is “Who owns the RECs?” I am sure there are more than three companies in Vermont that assign the RECs to the people who install solar panels. Tumbridge Solar comes to mind (http://www.tunbridgesolar.com/)

      • Samantha Mashler

        Just FYI, I am a VLS Energy Clinic alumna who now works for Aegis Renewable Energy in Waitsfield. Aegis NEVER sells the RECs from its community-owned solar projects. However, as the article points out, this is hardly the industry standard. The bottom line is, as Achyut stated, read your contract–although I could point out a couple of Aegis competitors who sell the RECs from their residential and community net metered projects as standard practice, an informed solar customer can always negotiate for the RECs or go with another developer. If you find yourself wanting to go solar but are concerned about REC stripping, consider buying in to one of Aegis’ community solar farms, where you own your panels, the electricity they generate, the RECs they create, and you get to benefit from the 30% federal investment tax credit. http://www.aegis-re.com/

        • Jennifer Baker

          Here is the exact language from a SunCommon CSA contract:

          “You agree Owner[SunCommon] will claim and receive any Incentives (described in Section 5 below), including any renewable energy credits (aka “RECs”) associated with the electricity generated by the CSA. You agree the Owner may sell associated RECs to facilitate the construction of the CSA. If Vermont adopts a renewable portfolio standard Owner will seek to sell the RECs associated with the electricity generated by the CSA to support Vermont’s clean energy goals.”

          SunCommon is selling the high-value solar RECs and replacing them with low-cost HQ RECs so they are legally allowed to still call it “renewable,” although not “solar” (because Vermont recognizes HQ RECs although the rest of the NE trading market doesn’t). If you sign up for a SunCommon CSA, you aren’t buying solar power, you’re purchasing “net-metering credits”. It’s a shell game that is very misleading to Vermonters, who may not fully understand what the above clause means, but have the entirely reasonable expectation that when they sign up with a solar CSA, they are actually buying solar power. They are not, as that power can and will be sold out-of-state in the form of RECs.

          • John Baker

            “It’s a shell game that is very misleading to Vermonters, who may not fully understand what the above clause means, but have the entirely reasonable expectation that when they sign up with a solar CSA, they are actually buying solar power. They are not, as that power can and will be sold out-of-state in the form of RECs”

            Let me repeat, RECs have absolutely nothing to do with where the electrical power generated by the asset is used. They are a tool which allow the environmental attributes of the asset to be bought and sold independently of the power.

            Contrary to Mr. Jones, a large unifed REC market with consistent rules would help the growth of renewables.

          • Annette Smith

            Yes, where the power goes is different from the environmental attributes. Customers have a right to know what they are buying, and there is no need to confuse people by obfuscating the disposition of the RECs. If people want to buy brown power, that’s their right. Just don’t pretend you’re selling them solar power when you aren’t.

            And yes, this system is resulting in a lot of renewables being built, which fills the hearts and bank accounts of people profiting from this system with joy and money.

            This system is also resulting in the dive to the lowest common denominator, as the worst sites are being chosen by profit-driven developers who have no interest in the long-term health of Vermont.

            One company, Allco, owns Ecos Energy, is part owner of groSolar, and was one of the founders of SunEdison. Its owners operate out of offices in the financial district of NYC and are backed by Goldman Sachs and other investment bankers. What do they care about what happens in Vermont? Nothing. They care about their view from their $15 million house on Martha’s Vineyard, enough to sue to stop Cape Wind over potential diminution of property values. But who cares about Vermonters’ property values! Not this company, and we are seeing other renewable energy developers who are showing tremendous disrespect for Vermonters’ values of community engagement and environmental protections.

            Governor Shumlin and his cronies at VPIRG have turned our state into a gold mine for these types. When it comes to being solicited for a community solar array, buyer beware! Make sure you know exactly what you are buying.

    • In reply to Roger Gillim’s question, Solaflect Energy (where I work) offers community solar and all environmental attributes are retained with our Solar Parks — no RECs are sold.

      I attended the event at the Montshire which Mr. Jones writes about. “Bob the Green Guy” videoed the event. A link to his video is at http://www.solaflect.com/community-solar-forum-videos-available/.

      John Baker raises the question of whether the REC market supports the growth of renewables in general or solar in particular. The answer is both “yes” and “no” and depends on circumstances.

      Here’s the situation in which selling RECs _reduces_ the growth of renewables rather than supporting it. Utilities in most New England states are required by law to have a certain fraction of their energy supply come from renewables. Some of these laws specify a sub-fraction from solar in particular. RECs are the accounting mechanism that allows the utility to show the state that it has followed the law.

      The penalties on the utilities for failing to meet these laws can be severe, with “alternative compliance payments” potentially over $50 per kWh. Not per megawatt-hour. Fifty dollars per kilowatt-hour. Yowza!

      Now consider a Vermonter who wants to go solar because of her concern for the environment (plus her desire to reduce her electric bill). She invests in a community “solar” facility that sells its RECs. She _thinks_ that she’s gone solar, but because the RECs were sold to, say, a Massachusetts utility, it is actually the Mass utility that has paid for the solar aspect of the electricity coming out of the facility.

      Now remember that penalty the utility would have had to pay if it didn’t buy enough RECs. If the community solar facility had retained its RECs, thus being truthful to its customer, then the utility would be pretty desperate to find some other source of renewable energy — it might even (gasp!) invest in some renewable facilities of its own, since the penalty is so high that the utility will save money by building a solar facility rather than paying the fee.

      So notice the alternatives: if the REC is NOT sold, then a solar facility is built in Vermont to satisfy the Vermont customers’ needs _and_ a solar facility is built in Massachusetts to satisfy that utility’s needs. But when the REC is sold, one solar facility has made both happy — even though the happiness of the Vermonters is largely due to not understanding that they did not get what they paid for.

      So in this scenario of selling RECs from “community solar,” there is less solar overall. The only thing that has happened is that the solar that satisfies the out-of-state utility’s needs has been relocated to Vermont. It’s window dressing.

      And meantime, even though the solar aspect of the energy is being exported, Vermont’s rate payers are supporting full value net metering for the output of these facilities. When a facility is genuinely providing real solar power to Vermont, then it makes sense to compensate it at full value. But when a big chuck of the value is exported, then that’s no longer the case.

      The world needs more renewable energy (and more energy efficiency, and energy conservation), and the world needs more truth-in-advertising. Companies that market “community solar” while selling off the RECs are undermining both of those needs.

  • Lee Stirling

    The only question I have is, despite whether the utility is stripping the RECs to sell separately or not, can I still zero-out my own electric bill and potentially earn some extra dollars through these net metering programs?

    I understand, through an interaction I have had with SunCommon, that I would pay a monthly fee, essentially a mortgage, for either 12 or 20 years for the PV array I could install on my roof. The way they spin their program to willing homeowners is by offering financing that results in a monthly fee that is essentially the same or a bit less than the homeowner’s current electric bill. They continually harp on the fact that your monthly rate will never go up, unlike what your electric bill is guaranteed to do over the same time period. So you don’t really make any money but you will own your PV array after a time and continue to capture power from it for at least 25-30 years.

    This commentary seems to express outrage at the big-picture practices of how these utilities and solar companies treat their RECs when from, the homeowner’s perspective, I imagine most only really care about their own bottom line and how their household cashflow is impacted. So tell me why , as a homeowner, I should care about RECs more than my own checkbook???

    • Achyut Shresth

      As far as I understand, the VT PSC is aware of the utility practice of selling the RECs separately and this practice is not yet illegal. If a person’s concern is their only their bottomline (like yours), then this is not big a concern. However, a lot of people in Vermont want to install solar PV so that they can reduce their carbon footprint, and while they are being cheated since ironically their CO2 footprint would instead increase by installing solar PV.

    • Kevin Jones

      It is not illegal to sell RECs and in fact there are many circumstances where that may make policy or financial sense but it is illegal to imply to people that they are buying solar power when you are not actually selling them a solar power product. That is a false green claim and we have state and federal laws that should protect us from this greenwashing. Furthermore, if you are a business and you buy one of the pseudo-solar energy products and then claim that you are 100% solar then that would also be a false green claim and the business making this claim would be making a false claim. Companies claiming to be green are seeking a competitive advantage and misleading your customers in this regard is not legal.

      If there are Vermonters who want to reduce their electric costs by further polluting the planet and don’t care about contributing to putting more carbon into the atmosphere then that is their personal decision but that does not excuse a company for marketing a largely fossil-fueled product as solar energy.

      • John Greenberg

        Kevin Jones:

        You write: “Beyond agreeing with me, I am not sure what point you are trying to make,” and then follow up with “The GMP mix is not green….” THAT segue points out one of the 2 points I thought I had made before.

        While GMP is Vermont’s largest utility, it isn’t Vermont’s ONLY utility, yet your statements suggest otherwise. I happen to be a GMP customer, but if I were not, I’m not sure why I should care whether GMP’s portfolio is green any more than I do about whether any of the MA utilities’ portfolios are green. Not all readers here are GMP customers; Vermont has 17 electric utiltites.

        The second point I was trying to make is precisely to avoid the confusion generated by Achyut Shrestha’s reply. Vermont’s grid is part of the ISO-NE grid, the physical characteristics of which are really not part of this discussion, as I tried to make clear.

        From precisely the accounting point of view you’re discussing, customers buy power from a utility, not from the grid. The environmental attributes of the power they buy is therefore characterized by the utility’s portfolio, NOT the grid’s.

        At the limit, if a utility’s power supply IS all “green,” and a customer then sells RECs from a solar project, it would make no difference whatsoever. The customer would be selling the “green” characteristics of her own project but buying the “green” characteristics of the utility’s portfolio.

        Accordingly, it behooves customers who care about the issue to understand their own utility’s portfolio, and perhaps even pressure their utility to improve its attributes.

  • Chuck Drake

    am finding more and more of my clients who experience the electromagnetic radiation sickness also have grid-tied inverters, which, in varying degrees, pollute the 60Hz AC power throughout a home with high frequency transients and harmonics.

    What is the high frequency threshold frequency at which biological damage occurs ? What do harmonics cause to happen ?

    I know many folks who have PV systems with inverters and have not heard of any issues health or otherwise. A small sample doesn’t prove anything but has anyone who reads VTdigger and has an inverter ever experienced electromagnetic radiation sickness symptoms ?

    • Annette Smith

      I live off grid with solar and recently had someone do measurements in my house. Yes, the dirty electricity is off the charts.

      My primary symptom is ringing in the ears, but since cancer is a potential I do intend to install filters to eliminate the dirty electricity. It will be interesting to see what I observe once the filters are working.

    • Matt Fisken

      Chuck asks two very good questions.

      “What is the high frequency threshold frequency at which biological damage occurs ?”

      I don’t think there is a specific frequency threshold at which bio-effects begin or end. All frequencies have some effect, but the range which the GS meters test for is 4-150 kHz (4,000-150,000 Hz).

      The main source of these intermediate frequencies on home wiring is from switched mode power supplies, lighting ballasts, variable speed motors and dimmer switches, but increasingly it is from grid-tie inverters.

      Like most agents, the dose is entirely dependent upon the individual and other confounders, which can include other sources of EMF or chemicals. In general, children and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

      “What do harmonics cause to happen ?”

      The most common health effects caused or exacerbated by DE are:

      • poor/disrupted sleep
      • anxiety/stress
      • headaches
      • tinnitus
      • asthma
      • ADHD
      • chronic fatigue
      • fibromyalgia
      • diabetes
      • multiple sclerosis

      Unlike most forms of pollution, exposure to EMF in the home is actually quite easy to test for, determine its effects on your family and mitigate. Because the risks of these exposures are not well known, most people never try to limit them and as a result, remain satisfied with their OK health or ailments which they quickly chalk up to aging.

  • John Greenberg

    Kevin Jones has been riding this hobby horse for a long time, and, in most regards, the facts support his statements.

    However, here as elsewhere he writes: “Without the RECs, the energy provided to the Vermont customers is not solar. In fact, by proper accounting, it is some of the dirtiest power on the New England grid.”

    The first sentence is quite correct: when the RECs are sold, the solar attribute associated with the power is sold with them.

    What remains? Jones’ implicit answer in the second sentence is completely unsupportable. What actually remains is whatever characterizes the power portfolio of the utility to whom the customer is grid-tied, and that composition varies among Vermont’s utilities. But unless there is a utility in Vermont whose overall portfolio characteristics are “some of the dirtiest power on the New England grid,” Mr. Jones’s statement is completely false. Even if there is such a utility, Jones’ statement is misleading to the extent that customers tied to OTHER utilities will be buying power with different characteristics.

    I’m not talking about the physical attributes of the power actually consumed any more than Mr. Jones is. When GMP signs a contract to buy power from Seabrook, for example, it is unlikely that much of the actual power generated at Seabrook reaches a GMP customer in northern Vermont. To be honest, I know little about the transmission routes in New England. Indeed, it’s perfectly possible that NONE of it reaches ANY GMP customer.

    The physical power generated by the Seabrook reactor follows the path of least resistance to customers on the grid, wherever they happen to be, and whether or not their utility actually buys power from Seabrook or not. But for accounting purposes, a GMP customer’s power (and cost) characteristics DO share whatever percentage of the GMP portfolio GMP represents. Since it is my understanding that relatively little of GMP’s portfolio is represented by grid power per se, the customer’s portfolio will follow the utility’s: x% of power from Seabrook, y% from Hydro Quebec, z% from Millstone, etc.

    By signing power contracts, utilities perform a wide variety of accounting functions – INCLUDING power portfolio characteristics – simultaneously. The most common focus, of course, is on the price of the power. Whatever power GMP buys under contract is bought at the price specified by the power contract, NOT the prevailing market price at any given point of time (unless the contract is for spot-market-priced power, which occurs only rarely). Only power actually purchased on the spot market has the characteristics of the spot market. The characteristics I’m talking about include not only price, but presumably all the other environmental characteristics under the contracts.

    In any case, since utilities do not have identical power portfolios, the power customers buy will vary with the utility with which they do business.

    • Achyut Shrestha

      What you suggest about the characteristic of power delivered on contacts being the power attributed for consumption is wrong. Vermont is part of the New England ISO, an organization that manages whole sale electric market in the New England region. The electricity produced, and sold in the NE ISO are registered with the NE-POOL. NE pool tracks all the electricity produced in the region, even electricity from your solar PV or community energy forms. So when the solar company sells the REC then NE-Pool transfers the solar credit to the person who bought the REC. The solar generator is then assigned what the left in the WHOLE of NE system, not each individual utility. The left overs are the brown electricity – attributed to coal and other dirty fuels. After you sell the RECs, that is what you are powering your electricity lights with. Kevin Jones is right with his assertion.

      • Achyut Shrestha

        It does not matter if you have buying electricity on the spot market or through long term contact. Either way you are routing your power through the ISO NE. There is no straight pipeline (transmission line) that provides electricity from Seabrok for sole purpose of feeding the GMP. Everything is interconnected, and you cant physically say where the electricity is going. Again, all of the electricity generated and managed by the NE ISO is tracked by NE Pool. When a utility gets a long term power contract, the utility then gets a portion of power claim from the NE-Pool. That is how they come up with the utility porfolio. Say the utility sells its credits from Seabrook, then the NE-Pool transfers the credits and assigns what the left in the bottom of the pile. Hope this helpful.

      • John Baker

        Another poster who doesn’t understand that RECs have nothing to do with actual electrical power generated by the asset.

        Solar arrays which are behind the meter are not dispatchable by the ISO and their output is not reported to the ISO.

    • Kevin Jones

      John – Beyond agreeing with me, I am not sure what point you are trying to make. The GMP mix is not green, it is over 50% fossil fuel and nuclear and that is available on their website. Other than these resources it is largely hydro. GMP sells almost all the RECs for the large scale solar and wind on their system so they no longer include that as part of their system mix since it would be illegal to do so. The correct environmental accounting for a New England grid resource stripped of its environmental attributes (when the RECs are separately sold) is to assign it the New England residual mix which is about 60% fossil fuel and 40% nuclear on average. So when a company signs you up for a solar product but by contract retains the right to separately sell the RECs then they are not selling you 100% solar but instead you are purchasing largely fossil fueled and nuclear power. My point is that these customers are not buying solar power and it is not lawful for these companies to imply to them that they are doing so. Since this practice is happening regularly here in the Green Mountain State, our regulators need to end this practice ASAP!

      • John Greenberg

        Kevin Jones:

        You write: “Beyond agreeing with me, I am not sure what point you are trying to make,” and then follow up with “The GMP mix is not green….” THAT segue points out one of the 2 points I thought I had made before.

        While GMP is Vermont’s largest utility, it isn’t Vermont’s ONLY utility, yet your statements suggest otherwise. I happen to be a GMP customer, but if I were not, I’m not sure why I should care whether GMP’s portfolio is green any more than I do about whether any of the MA utilities’ portfolios are green. Not all readers here are GMP customers; Vermont has 17 electric utiltites.

        The second point I was trying to make is precisely to avoid the confusion generated by Achyut Shrestha’s reply. Vermont’s grid is part of the ISO-NE grid, the physical characteristics of which are really not part of this discussion, as I tried to make clear.

        From precisely the accounting point of view you’re discussing, customers buy power from a utility, not from the grid. The environmental attributes of the power they buy is therefore characterized by the utility’s portfolio, NOT the grid’s.

        At the limit, if a utility’s power supply IS all “green,” and a customer then sells RECs from a solar project, it would make no difference whatsoever. The customer would be selling the “green” characteristics of her own project but buying the “green” characteristics of the utility’s portfolio.

        Accordingly, it behooves customers who care about the issue to understand their own utility’s portfolio, and perhaps even pressure their utility to improve its attributes.

  • Moshe Braner

    The so-called “net metering” program was never about benefiting the planet. The first thing one should do to reduce pollution is to use less energy. But if a “net metering” customer uses less than their solar panels produce, the excess energy is confiscated – the utility never pays cash, only offers credit for future consumption, and for a limited time. Using up the credits with wasteful consumption towards the end of the year is the predictable and lamentable outcome.

    In truth, the so-called “net metering” program is a subsidy for air conditioning, since those who use a lot of power during peak demand times pay the same flat per-KWH rate. This can and should be changed. We all paid (through our rates) for the so-called “smart meters” in order to make it possible to bill at variable rates. Now do it!

    • Kevin Jones

      Moshe – I strongly agree with the need for time of use rates and Vermont is way behind on this. In regards to net metering though, offsetting your own use through local clean solar is very much about benefitting the planet. Stripping RECs from so-called community solar projects and selling them to other customers as solar energy results in their being less solar on the system and thus more fossil fuel by attempting to double sell the solar to customers. Only one customer can buy the same kWh and by deceiving customers about this there is less solar on the system and honest community solar companies are being undercut by these false community solar products.

      • Moshe Braner

        No, net metering is not a benefit to the planet if it discourages conservation and encourages waste. I only use 200 KWH a month or so, thus a solar system small enough to “offset” my own use would be too small to be economically viable. Those who install large solar systems aim to zero out their bill, but not give power away for free. So they use up the credit somehow before it expires. Electric baseboard heating on December nights is NOT solar powered, even if funded by net metering credits.

        It makes no difference to the utility whether I use the power or my neighbor does instead, so why don’t they simply pay cash for the excess power from my solar panels instead – recouping that money from my neighbor? I believe the reason that’s excluded from the rules (unless my neighbor agrees to do the “group net metering” paperwork with me) is because the utility WANTS to sell more power at a profit!

        Meanwhile, the utilities only go along with the net metering program because it gives them extra power during peak demand times (summer afternoons) at rates that are at or somewhat higher than the retail rates but lower than the spot market rates at those times. This extra power is then sold (at a loss) to those who use that peak demand power – i.e., those who are running air conditioners. That’s the waste being encouraged. The worst form of this waste is the retail businesses that prop their doors open while running the A/C.

        • Kevin Jones

          Moshe – Many people size the system to meet their needs not the other way around. I agree 100% to your conservation first principle but we all use energy. With group net metering, you can cost effectively join a group for 200 kWh of usage. Just make sure they are really selling you solar energy. Electricity can be the low carbon resource of the future and more people are using PHEVs and EVs for transportation or cold climate heat pumps for efficient home heating. Using electricity is not necessarily wasteful and can be both efficient and low carbon as we move toward more distributed sources such as solar and take advantage of new efficient technologies. Sham solar products where people sell the RECs are a step in the wrong direction though.

  • Steve Comeau

    If someone wants to use 100% solar energy, they need to be off the grid and produce their own power with solar panels. If you are on the grid and use solar, then you are a consumer of grid power from the New England grid (like everyone else connected to the grid), and you are a producer of solar power from your solar panels. These are two independent actions that can happen at the same time. If you buy into community solar it is pretty much the same and the RECS are irrelevant to the physical reality.

    According to Kevin Jones “Historically, one of the most convenient ways to reduce your impact on the planet was to contract with a local solar company to install solar panels at your home and interconnect them with your utility.” No, as noted by Moshe above, the most convenient way to reduce impact is to use less energy.

    Perhaps solar companies do have some deceptive practices with their marketing, but customers are responsible for reading the contract, which was very clear about RECs in the example above. The customers are ripe for deception. Many people want to go green by buying solar to “reduce their impact” and yet continue to fly to Aruba on vacation every year and otherwise burn huge amounts of energy. It is a common deception that most of us share.

    • Randy Jorgensen

      “If someone wants to use 100% solar energy, they need to be off the grid and produce their own power with solar panels. If you are on the grid and use solar, then you are a consumer of grid power from the New England grid (like everyone else connected to the grid), and you are a producer of solar power from your solar panels”

      True, however, if you don’t tie to the grid you aren’t eligible for the nice subsidies from the state. .. So in an effort to have 100% solar power, be green, you don’t quality for the money from the state to help you be green….

      How nice of them.

    • Randy Jorgensen

      This story seems very much like the story of Vermont:

      http://news.yahoo.com/mafia-multinationals-milk-italys-green-energy-boom-145245277.html

      “On the outskirts of Narbolia near the island’s western coast, one such plant sprawls across the town’s most fertile fields: over 107,000 solar panels sit atop the roofs of some 1,600 greenhouses, in which the owners had promised to grow aloe plants.

      But with the sunlight shut out by the panels, nothing grows there but weeds. The Chinese company which runs the plant, meanwhile, is pocketing profits from 20 years of subsidies and the sale of its energy to Italian giant Enel, Porcedda said.”

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