×

Column: The value of increasing the net metering cap

  • Bob King one of the partners in Sugar River Power LLC walks to the intake pipe above the plant along the Sugar River in Claremont, N.H. on May 16, 2017.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



To the Valley News
Monday, September 16, 2019

Communities across New Hampshire are working on creating energy efficiencies and developing renewable energy options in support of the state’s Climate Action Plan. Such initiatives reduce energy costs, create economic opportunity and protect the environment.

Net metering is one of the tools that enable municipalities to achieve these goals.

On Wednesday or Thursday, the Legislature will decide whether to override a number of bills vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu. One of these is HB 365, the bill that received bipartisan support to increase the net metering cap to 5 megawatts, from 1 MW, for renewable power generators. A recent tour of a hydroelectric plant in Claremont and a discussion with a representative of a local business have given me new insight into how increasing the net metering cap will benefit communities.

Over 60 small hydroelectric plants, each capable of generating 5 MW or less of renewable energy, exist in more than 40 communities across New Hampshire. Three of these facilities are located in Claremont and, until recently, one of them had been offline since 2011. A couple of years ago, Bob King, one of the new owners of the plant, presented a proposal to the City Council to get the facility back online. Given the condition of the hydroelectric plant, it was a challenging prospect at best.

However, King and his two partners persevered and the Claremont community has benefited from their achievement. Not only has the city regained one of its assets along the Sugar River, but it has also acquired new revenue resulting from a negotiated 10-year, payments-in-lieu-of-taxes contract.

Because the plant is licensed to generate more than 1 MW, the net metering cap currently in place limits the benefit of the plant’s operating capacity. In addition, it also limits the financial return to the city as the pilot payments are based on a percentage of the annual gross revenue.

On the same tour, I had the opportunity to speak with a local businessman who spoke of his company’s effort to lower electricity costs. To achieve that objective, the company built a biomass facility and a solar array to provide some of the energy needed to run its sawmill.

In accordance with the current net metering cap, the company designed the solar array to generate no more than 1 MW, which was not sufficient for the sawmill. Had the cap been at 5 MW, the company could have built a larger array, capable of producing enough power for the mill and all of its stores. This would have generated more savings in overhead costs that could have been passed onto the customer or further invested in the company and its employees.

Fostering the development of net metered, renewable energy projects producing 5 MW or less aligns with both state and local goals. In Claremont, not only does it support the state’s Climate Action Plan, but it also supports the goals outlined in the energy chapter of our city’s Master Plan. We are working to promote local, sustainable energy production, develop energy efficiencies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have installed solar arrays to lower municipal energy costs and supported the redevelopment of a long-neglected hydroelectric plant. However, we need to do more if we are to be successful in achieving these goals.

Increasing the net metering cap is a valuable tool in this pursuit. Both the House and Senate recognized this when they voted in bipartisan fashion in favor of this bill.

In considering whether to sustain or override the governor’s veto of HB 365, I hope legislators consider the impact to communities at the local level.

Charlene Lovett is the mayor of the city of Claremont.