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Utility not allowed to kick out net metering customers

Bill Andrews
Monday, January 16, 2017

The BC utilities commission ruled in late December 2016 that FortisBC can’t turf existing electricity net metering customers from the program just because they regularly sell more electricity to the utility than they buy from it.

However, the commission ruled that the NM program is intended to let a customer offset his or her own consumption, not to regularly sell excess power to the utility. Going forward, a customer will be allowed to join the net metering program only if their generator is no bigger than needed to meet own annual consumption. Similarly, an existing NM customer who wants to boost the size of their generation equipment will have to get FBC’s approval, which FBC won’t give if the new generation would routinely produce an annual net surplus of power to the grid.

The commission’s decision concludes a lengthy regulatory proceeding in which BCSEA, SCBC and numerous NM customers participated extensively. The proceeding began last April when FBC asked the commission to narrow the scope of the NM program to prevent customers from joining the NM program specifically to sell net surplus power to the utility at the retail price, which is much higher than the price FBC pays for power from third parties. BCSEA-SCBC told the regulator that an annual net surplus from net metering should be considered highly desirable, not a problem, assuming the price is reasonable and the equipment is below the maximum 50 kW generator size.

As it turned out, after receiving much evidence and argument, the commission decided to defer any decision about the price FBC pays to NM customers for power they provide to the utility. The commission said this should be considered in a recently launched proceeding to do with FBC’s long term plan for electricity resources. In the meantime, FBC continues to pay for NM power at the retail rate.

So, what does this BCUC decision mean for the energy landscape? Well, it confirms that grid-connected rooftop PV is a great way for customers in BC to cut their own load. But the decisions signals that net metering is not going to be seen as a utility-scale electrical generation resource in BC until the cost of PV systems comes down to the point where it can compete with commercial-scale clean and renewable generation projects.

For more on the issues in the FBC NM proceeding see our October update, and for more on small-scale solar generation see A Field Guide to Community Solar in BC.

Bill Andrews is legal counsel for BCSEA and SCBC in BC utilities commission proceedings.