Thursday, August 22, 2013

Renewable Energy Law News - Week of August 19, 2013

Advocates protest as more utilities stop or reduce projects eligible for renewable energy credits 
Washington Electric Cooperative is the only utility in Vermont that has continued to accept applications to its net-metering, renewable-energy program, even after surpassing a legal marker that no longer compels it to do so.
But as of Oct. 1, the utility will accept only solar installations with a capacity of 5 kilowatts (kW) or less.
Vermont’s net metering law requires utilities to credit renewable energy projects that generate less than 500 kW for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) they produce. A utility, however, no longer has to accept applications for net-metering systems when the capacity of a utility’s total net metering surpasses 4 percent of its peak demand from the previous year or from 1996, whichever is greater.
When the Hardwick Electric Department and Vermont Electric Cooperative — the state’s second largest utility — hit the 4 percent mark, both utilities stopped accepting net-metering applications. The Morrisville Electric Department recently hit the cap, and they, too, are no longer accepting applications.
Leadership at Hardwick Electric and Vermont Electric say other customers are footing the bill for net-metering customers because net-metering customers don’t pay their fair share of the grid’s fixed costs. A new law passed in 2011, allows net-metering customers to apply the credits from the energy they produce to all charges, not just to kWh power charges.
This means that even though net-metering customers are using the power grid, they oftentimes aren’t paying for its maintenance. This financial situation is the major impetus behind Washington Electric’s decision to scale back the size of net-metering applications.
“We embraced net metering from the outset and have worked diligently to support WEC members who were interested in pursuing it,” Barry Bernstein, Washington Electric’s board president said in a statement. “However, as more and more members have signed up over the 4 percent threshold, we are growing concerned of the cost impact on other members.”
Even though Washington Electric was the first utility to hit the 4 percent marker, the utility has continued to accept applications. The news that the utility was scaling back its program catalyzed an avalanche of outcry from renewable energy advocates.
Gabrielle Stebbins of the trade organization Renewable Energy Vermont said she was disappointed by Washington Electric’s decision.
“Our net metering program has been our state’s primary successful renewables initiative, fostering clean energy, lowering peak costs on summer days for all customers, and creating local jobs,” she said in a statement. “As a result, Vermont has become 11th in the country for solar jobs. Unraveling a customer’s right to net meter would take us squarely backwards from our state’s adopted renewable energy goal of 90 percent by 2050.”

Green Mountain College Divests from Fossil Fuels

Green Mountain College has become the second higher education institution in Vermont to commit to divestment from fossil fuels. College trustees agreed at their meeting Friday to withdraw investments from 200 publicly traded companies holding coal, oil and gas reserves. The investments are part of the school’s endowment portfolio, which is valued at about $3.4 million.

Sterling College trustees voted at their winter meeting to divest from fossil fuel holdings in that school’s $960,000 endowment. Students at the University of Vermont and Middlebury College have mounted divestment campaigns that await possible action by trustees. The divestment issue has also been raised at St. Michael’s, Goddard and Marlboro colleges.

Three other colleges in New England have also divested: Hampshire College, in Massachusetts; and Unity College and College of the Atlantic, in Maine.

“We see this as another step in an ongoing effort to connect our investment decisions with our ideals,” said Paul Fonteyn, president o f Green Mountain College, in a news release. “Investing endowment funds on the basis of social, economic and environmental criteria is one of the ways Green Mountain College expresses its values.”

The divestment campaign was a collaboration of a student group, Divest GMC, and the administration, and featured a teach-in. In 2010, trustees invested 15 percent of the endowment in a portfolio of ecologically responsible companies. The college also switched from fuel oil to wood chips as a primary heating source with installation of a new biomass plant.

The action won praise from Bill McKibben, scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College and a leader in, a national advocacy group that seeks to build support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’m delighted Green Mountain College has taken a leadership role in this important issue,” McKibben said in the news release. “GMC has long had a great reputation for environmental studies. Now they’ve demonstrated that it’s a core part of their values. What leadership!”

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