Policy Rule #20 – Net Metering
VEA backs off plans to revise existing solar policy
By Vern Hee
A large group of Valley Electric Association members and solar generators shared their views and concerns on the Co-op’s net metering policy at a town hall style meeting Aug. 5 at the Valley Conference Center.
VEA had been considering revisions to its policy, but the association announced at the town hall meeting that it was walking back any proposed changes and instead would stick with its current policy.
VEA Interim CEO Dick Peck said the reason for the about face was because he had misunderstood and misrepresented current policy in June. His confusion prompted Peck to request board approval for revisions before he realized his error.
Peck apologized to those assembled for the mistake, which was brought to his attention by VEA Operations Manager James Andresen.
“We currently have this policy in place,” Peck said. “There are no changes at this time, and there will be no reductions in the current rate of exchange,” Peck said. “This is a workshop, and we are here to listen to you. I assure solar users that VEA won’t change net metering policy without member input.”
Changes to the net metering policy – or any policy – must be ratified by the VEA Board.
VEA solar generators filled the Valley Conference Center to express their opposition to the proposed changes. Peck’s original proposal had included a tier system for reimbursing solar generators for power over and above actual consumption. The proposal mirrored Nevada’s Net Metering law.
The members were concerned that such a tier system would reduce the rate depending on when the member-generator interconnected with the VEA grid.
Some of the concerns expressed by the nearly 200 members who attended included:
- The six-month wait to process solar applications, which is making it harder for members to get solar. Some wondered whether VEA was delaying applications on purpose to make more money during the summer months?
- VEA should stick as close as possible to the current rate.
- A tier system would not be fair. Will there be tiers in the future?
- Were the proposed changes to the policy because VEA is running a deficit?
- Will solar users be included on the VEA Policy Committee?
- How will VEA offset the cost if it keeps the current exchange rate?
Gary Saleba a VEA consultant and President of EES Consulting, addressed some of their concerns.
“Now there are 367 solar projects (in VEA territory), and this will increase to about 500 by the end of the year,” Saleba said. The bottom line is VEA is not able to add enough staff right now to approve the applications any faster, Saleba said.
Saleba also explained that the current exchange rate is a concern to the VEA Board of Directors. Although there are no planned reductions in the rate of exchange, the growth in solar generators within VEA territory is creating increased costs, which all members must bear.
“You still have to pay for the office staff,” Saleba said. “If you get full credit for solar, that cost has to be picked up by someone else.”
What are other utilities doing to offset the discrepancy?
Saleba said other southwestern cooperatives were increasing the “fixed charge” (a monthly charge).
Peck said current policy requires VEA to “make net metering available to eligible customer-generators in a timely manner and on a first-come, first-served basis up to zero point five percent (0.5%) of the VEA’s most recently measured annual peak load.”
Peck said the 0.5 percent threshold was surpassed long ago, and the Board recently upped it to 3 percent. It needs to be increased again to accommodate the demand, he said.
Doug Dubin, a VEA member affiliated with Solar Pros of Nevada said some of his customers were experiencing six-month application delays.
“The reality is they (VEA) is creating new policy that is making it difficult to get solar by making members wait for six months to process applications,” Dubin said. “But after hearing Peck speak, I am satisfied for now.”
Russ Mangel was one of the members upset about the proposal to revise the exchange rate.
“VEA will pay the customer-generators the retail rate … but that does not take into account of ‘time of use,’ ” said Mangel. “The rates go up during the day, so during peak hours … VEA does not pay us time of use rate.” Mangel said VEA would be making more than enough, especially if they reduced the rates given to solar users.
Peck explained that VEA’s kWh rate to members is constant through the day; it does not go up during peak use periods even though VEA’s cost of power accelerates during periods of extreme heat or cold.
When Mangel heard VEA’s existing policy would remain in place with no changes on the board, he was satisfied.
Member and solar generator Larry Tobey, who serves on VEA’s new Policy Committee, said he is confident he can represent solar users. “I heard the policy wasn’t going to change today,” Tobey said. “So we created a lot of this hubbub. We need to figure out how to resolve the problems of the future and we need to keep this Co-op alive.”
Several VEA District Board Members attended the meeting, including Michelle Caird, District 1; Dave Dawson, District 6; Kathy Keyes, District 4 and Terrie D’Antonio, District 5, who attended via video conferencing.
Dawson chairs the VEA Policy Committee along with D’Antonio and said after the meeting that VEA was headed in the right direction. “I think the meeting was a win-win for both solar users and VEA,” he said. “Now we have to sit down and focus and hopefully finish by January.”