Report Outlines Best Practices for Connecting Renewables to the Grid

A new report on state renewable energy regulations gives California, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon top marks and failing grades for Georgia, Idaho and Texas.

Freeing the Grid,” which was written by renewables advocates, examines each state’s policies on net metering and interconnection procedures. Those are two of the main regulatory elements that enable homeowners and businesses to connect solar panels or other energy technologies to the electric grid, and be reimbursed for their efforts.

“If not implemented fairly or properly, these policies can pose a barrier to the development of customer-sited renewable energy,’’ the report states. Some customers, it noted, encounter “byzantine” regulations.

The report, released on Tuesday, was prepared by two nonprofit groups, Network for New Energy Choices and the Vote Solar Initiative. It lays out suggested guidelines to facilitate the adoption of renewable energy. The groups are hoping for improvement to existing state regulations, and ultimately for a favorable federal policy.

“There is a patchwork of policies across the country,’’ said James Rose, the report’s primary author, in a telephone interview. “The ultimate goal would be to have a federal standard, but we also wouldn’t want states that could go beyond that to be restricted.’’

The report cites several pitfalls in current policy, including restricting eligibility to certain classes of electric customers (such as residential, commercial or municipal), limiting the size of eligible systems, not paying for extra electricity produced by customers and “charging discriminatory or unclear fees.”

The report says that any limits on net metering — in which the electricity user receives credit for energy outflows after deducting the inflows — should allow large commercial and industrial customers to participate. It also calls on utilities to “allow monthly carryover of excess electricity at the utility’s full retail rate.”

As for interconnections — the technical procedures for plugging solar panels or other renewables into the grid — the report recommends that utilities set fair fees and simplify their procedures. Of all 50 states, only Virginia received an “A” for its interconnection policies.

The report cites Texas as an example of a state whose energy law, in this case created in 2007, did not clearly define the term “net metering,’’ and resulted in consumers not receiving full credit for the electricity they sent to the grid.

Oregon, on the other hand, already incorporates many industry best practices, the report said, including opening up net metering to third-party ownership last year. The state is also drafting the first statewide “solar code” in the country, to clarify rules for installing solar panels.

New York got a middling grade because, according to the report, it muddled its net metering law with unclear rules on eligibility.

By ROBERT P. WALZER/NYT

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