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NY bill would continue compensation system for buying solar energy

LIPA is considering a new system that would compensate commercial solar producers based on a complex array of factors, such as geographic location and environmental benefits.

Solar panels on a rooftop on Moses Street

Solar panels on a rooftop on Moses Street in Southampton are visible from the street in 2015. Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

With backing from the Republican chairman of the Senate energy committee, a Long Island assemblyman has introduced a bill that would delay for three years a new state system for buying solar energy from customer rooftop solar arrays.

The move comes in response to a backlash to a newly devised state-mandated plan called Value of Distributed Energy Resources, or VDER, which solar-industry groups and individual installers have criticized as confusing and overly complex, inhibiting new solar installations.

LIPA is set to roll out the new program for commercial solar systems May 1. Assemb. Steve Englebright’s bill would keep the current net metering system in effect across the state until Dec. 31, 2021.

Englebright (D-Setauket), who wrote the legislation that created the current system called net metering, said the changes proposed in his new bill are needed to help the state meets its ambitious goals for renewable energy by 2030.

Deputy Senate Majority Whip Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) has introduced a companion Senate bill.

“We really need simplicity and predictability, and the net metering program that we had for a number of years has provided that,” said Englebright. “This bill gives us a chance to move in a manner that doesn’t crater the industry,” something he worries is already happening with VDER, which he called “bewildering.”

Net metering gives customers a one-for-one value for the energy they sell back to the grid from their rooftop solar systems. Most of the energy they produce is used in their home or business, but any excess is sold to the utility and banked as credits for use at night or when the sun isn’t shining.

The state’s VDER system compensates solar producers for the energy their systems make based on complex array of factors, such as geographic location and environmental benefits. It is currently in effect for the rest of the state primarily in commercial installations. Previously installed home solar systems keep net metering for the lifetime of their systems; newly installed systems through January 2020 would keep net metering for 20 years. Systems after that must adopt whatever new state plan is in place by then.

Englebright’s bill directs the Public Service Commission to adopt a new rule for its recently implemented compensation plan by June 30, 2021. The bill would allow solar producers who want to use the state VDER system to do so. The bill would also increase current capacity limits on net metering. And it would allow the LIPA territory to expand green energy beyond the statewide goal of 50 percent by 2030. Spokesmen for LIPA and the PSC said they don’t comment on pending legislation.

Scott Maskin, chief executive of SUNation Solar Systems, one of the Island’s largest installers, applauded the Englebright bill. “I’m going to work hard to see that the bill gets traction,” he said. “The LIPA board rubber stamped what the Public Service Commission presented to them. It was a mistake.”

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