Northeast, Not Afraid to Show Report Card at Home

February, 24, 2016
Matt Farnworth
Research Intern
Renewable Energy

It is no secret that the future of our energy markets revolves around renewables. The old system of large centralized fossil fuel power plants is not conducive to the environment or the future of our economic growth. Increasingly, energy consumers are taking matters into their own hands and installing rooftop solar and other distributed generation at their homes and businesses—simultaneously reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and lowering their energy costs. The ability for customers to buy into distributed renewables like rooftop solar, however, is often tied to state policies guiding how these resources interact with the wider electrical grid.

Interconnection procedures and net metering are two of the most important policies known in the industry. Interconnection procedures are the rules and processes followed to connect distributed renewable generation to the grid, and net metering policies allow renewable generation customers to receive full retail credit for energy exported to the grid. The details of these two policies can make or break the economics of installing renewable energy for your home or business.

Produced by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and Vote Solar, Freeing the Grid grades the effectiveness of these policies in each of the 50 states. The organizations recently released updated grades to reflect policy changes in 2015. This blog post summarizes the grades of the states comprising the Northeast Solar Energy Market Coalition (NESEMC)— a partnership of state and regional solar organizations representing more than 500 solar businesses in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The Coalition is coordinated by the Pace Energy and Climate Center with a cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative.

Each state received a grade on their interconnection and net metering policies on Freeing the Grid. The grade system ranges from “A” to “F,” with “A” naturally being the highest score. The following table summarizes the states’ grades:

Overall, the NESEMC states scored high marks for both net metering and interconnection with all states scoring a B or higher in each category. Of course, there is always room for improvement. For example, New Hampshire could improve their score and interconnection practices greatly if they were to establish tiers of review to accommodate different levels of system complexity and if they created more streamlined timelines. This would mean complex and larger systems would still need higher levels of review, but smaller and simpler projects could forego costly and unneeded review steps.

Maine on the other hand, could improve their net metering grade by removing system size limitations and adopting “safe-harbor” language. Removing system size limitations would allow customers to build systems that can meet all their on-site energy needs, reducing the overall reliance on non-renewable forms of energy from the utility. “Safe-harbor” language is similar to the “no fine print” cliché. It would keep customers from falling victim to hidden or unexpected fees, which can unknowingly increase costs for customers.

These reports on state processes for both net metering and interconnection make clear to local governments which measures can help solar become a much more viable option for their energy market. With statewide incentives, fair market practices, and transparency of information, solar renewables from privately owned systems can help transform and grow the energy market.