FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 6, 2012
SCHUMER URGES PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION TO RAISE LIMIT ON SOLAR ENERGY CREDIT SYSTEM FOR HOMES AND BUSINESSES – WITHOUT RAISING CAP, GROWING SOLAR INDUSTRY IN HUDSON VALLEY AND NEW YORK STATE COULD COLLAPSE
System That Credits Solar Panel Owners For Excess Power Abruptly Ended in July in Hudson Valley - Schumer Pushes PSC To Lift Limit & Keep Empire State’s Solar Industry Competitive With Leading States Like NJ and CA
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Has Reached PSC Solar Cap That Is Set at 1% of Overall Business – Now Hundreds of Future Solar Panel Installations Could Be Canceled, Solar Jobs Lost
Schumer: PSC Should Keep Lights on For HV Solar Industry
Today, at EarthKind Solar Energy in Kingston, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to raise the limit for a net-metering benefit that allows homeowners to earn credits on their energy bills when they produce excess solar power used by local utilities companies, the major incentive for new installations. Under the “net-metering” credit system, when a solar panel owner, either commercial or residential, produces more power than they need, the local utility is required to credit the excess power back from that customer. It was recently reported that Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation (CHG&E), a utility provider in the Hudson Valley, reached their total allowable limit set by the Public Service Commission for the amount of solar energy that can be generated by homeowners and businesses and pumped back into the grid for credits. Therefore, CHG&E recently suspended the net metering benefit for all of its future solar customers, a major disincentive for new businesses and homeowners to install solar panels in the Hudson Valley. As a result of pressure from Schumer and the local solar industry, CHG&E announced late last week that they would begin processing net metering applications temporarily until the PSC issues its ruling. However, Schumer said that the PSC needs to make a permanent fix to the net metering limits to ensure consumer confidence that solar panels, which can be time-consuming to install and connect to the grid, will not be cut off from net-metering benefits.
Schumer was joined at EarthKind Solar Energy by Chairman Ron Kamen, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, and the Solar Energy Consortium as he highlighted that the PSC’s current one-percent “peak demand” limit amounts to only 12 megawatts (MW) for CHG&E, a fraction of the overall electric capacity of the utility. Schumer therefore called on PSC to exercise its power to increase the Net Metering Limit for privately-owned utilities, a move which would keep the clean energy industry alive in the Hudson Valley. In order to meet the ambitious goals of New York State’s “NY Sun” program, which aims to increase customer solar installations by 300 percent in two years, Schumer said that the PSC would in all likelihood be forced to raise the cap or forego the target growth. The Public Service Commission recently approved NYSERDA’s request to double funding for customer-sited solar electric systems, known as a solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, to $432 million over the next four years. The expanded solar program will increase financial incentives for large, commercial-sized PV projects and expand incentive programs for small-to-medium residential and commercial systems.
“If the Net Metering Limit is not increased, the clean energy industry in Ulster County will be forced to turn off its lights before its potential can be realized in the Hudson Valley and throughout the state,” said Schumer.
Schumer stated that CHG&E’s net metering limit only allows for enough solar panel benefits to power 12,000 homes, despite the fact that the utilities company currently serves over 375,000 customers in the Hudson Valley. While increasing the net-metering cap would have minimal impact on the utility and its costs, it could have massive implications for the Hudson Valley’s ability to compete with other states that are viewed as more solar-friendly to high-tech businesses. Schumer cited a recent federally-funded study by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council that concluded it is unlikely non-solar customers subsidize solar generators with net metering facilities and that the transmission system actually benefits greatly during peak usage periods, which commonly occur on hot summer days. Moreover, the PSC has found in recent cases regarding CHG&E’s net metering caps that an increase in “Central Hudson’s net metering ceiling is needed to promote the continued growth of residential PV system capability within its service territory.” In his letter to PSC Chairman Garry Brown, Schumer called on the PSC to immediately use the authority under the State’s current net metering law to increase the limit above 1 percent, which would get New York closer to leading solar states like neighboring New Jersey (2.5 percent limit) and California (5 percent limit). Schumer also noted that until the limit is raised, CHG&E will receive the excess power generated by new solar installations free of charge.
“New York’s Public Service Commission’s net metering cap for new solar energy is too low and needs to be raised so more solar power – and clean energy jobs – can be generated right here in the Hudson Valley,” Schumer continued. “That is why I’m urging the PSC to utilize their authority and raise this cap so that solar panel installations keep expanding and we do not pull the plug on new solar jobs for the Hudson Valley’s clean energy industry. If Central Hudson Gas & Electric customers can no longer install solar panels to turn back their meters, they will be turned off from further investment in cost-efficient, clean energy.”
Schumer stressed that 159 solar installations are pending for CHG&E, but the suspension of net metering benefits could lead to the cancellation of many of these projects and a huge loss in revenue for clean energy employers like EarthKind Solar – a Kingston, NY company with 10 employees, but the capability to add dozens more if the PSC raises the Net Metering Limit. In Hudson Solar’s petition to the PSC, which EarthKind Solar fully supports, the Hudson Solar President Jeff Irish noted that companies like his also subcontract to vulnerable local electricians, excavators, structural engineers, and electrical inspectors and purchase electrical and construction material from local suppliers. “A slowing down of the market,” Irish wrote, “will result in immediate job losses in the Hudson Valley at a time when New York State can least afford it.”
“Utilities companies should not be able to suspend benefits for homeowners with solar panels when solar energy accounts for such a miniscule portion of a utility’s overall energy portfolio. If the Public Service Commission raises the net metering limits, clean energy companies like EarthKind Solar can create more jobs and will no longer worry about the cancellation of solar projects,” said Schumer.
Schumer wrote to PSC Chairman in support of Hudson Solar’s recent push that the PSC increase the Net Metering Limit for CHG&E. State public service law allows utilities companies to suspend net metering access for solar power generators up to one percent of their 2005 “peak demand” levels of energy consumption. CHG&E is the first utility company in New York State to reach the one percent limit of 12 MW of photovoltaic power. Although CHG&E can voluntarily raise their Net Metering Limit, the utilities company has elected to suspend this benefit for residents and businesses that generate more solar power than they use. Schumer pointed to the PSC’s ability under Public Service Law §66-j to raise the Net Metering Limit if it is in the public’s interest. Schumer believes that the one percent cap, a small percentage of CHG&E’s total energy portfolio, hurts the Hudson Valley economy and disrupts investments in upstate New York companies that create green jobs.
Schumer’s petition to the PSC to increase the net metering cap has been echoed by state environmental groups, such as the Alliance for Clean Energy in New York (ACE NY). ACE NY shared Schumer’s concern that the cessation of net metering the Hudson Valley will dissuade customers from installing solar panels. The potential decrease in demand for solar panel installation would have a devastating effect for green companies throughout upstate New York who employ engineers, electricians, manufacturers, and construction workers who develop and install solar panels. Because solar installers in New York State are small operations, these businesses cannot survive without net metering.
Schumer’s push comes after Jeff Irish, President of Hudson Solar, petitioned the PSC to impose a short-term tripling of CHG&E’s capacity to 36 MW. Additionally, Hudson Solar joined Schumer in his push for CHG&E to immediately reactivate net metering so the photovoltaic market in upstate New York does not shut down entirely. EarthKind solar and other solar installers in Ulster County stand to lose significant business at a time when the clean energy market should be taking off in upstate New York. The company employs 10 people in Kingston, and contracts work to local electricians, excavators, structural engineers, and electrical inspectors.