Net-metering battle on hold for now

Source: By Josh Siegle, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted unanimously Thursday to reject a petition that would have essentially upended state net-metering rules that credit customers that generate their own electricity for the energy they add to the grid.

The rejection is a victory especially for the rooftop solar industry, which relies on supportive net-metering policies to encourage more people to install solar panels on their homes and businesses. The petition in question, brought in April by the New England Ratepayers Association, argued net-metering is subject to FERC’s jurisdiction, instead of the states.

Such a shift in regulatory oversight would have undermined net-metering programs around the country. That prospect generated an intense amount of opposition, not just from solar companies and clean energy advocates, but also from state utility regulators, conservative groups, and Republican policymakers whose states have seen a solar energy boom.

This might not be the end of the issue:FERC rejected NERA’s petition on procedural grounds, saying it didn’t “identify a specific controversy or harm that the commission should address in an order,” Chairman Neil Chatterjee (who is celebrating a birthday today) said during the commission’s Thursday meeting.

Some of the other GOP commissioners, however, suggested FERC should still take up the merits of NERA’s petition to consider whether net-metering belongs in federal or state jurisdiction.

“Today’s order does not address any of the important substantive issues underlying the petition,” GOP Commissioner Bernard McNamee said. He opened the door for NERA or its allies to file a more specific complaint or rulemaking petition for the commission to consider the issue.

Fellow GOP Commissioner James Danlysaid he’d prefer FERC address jurisdictional questions over net-metering, too, raising concerns that the issue could end up in the court system if FERC doesn’t deal with it. “That could create an inconsistent state-by-state regime of conflicting rules that would take years to clean up,” Danly said.

Clean energy advocates will remain on edge: Especially since watchdog groups have suggested the true voices behind NERA’s petition aren’t New England ratepayers, but rather major utilities that oppose net-metering. Utilities, as well as their biggest trade group the Edison Electric Institute, were largely silent on the NERA petition.

“While we are gratified that today’s decision respects the Federal Power Act, we will continue to stay vigilant about protecting forward-looking state energy policies that deliver the pollution-free renewable power Americans want and deserve,” said Gregory Wetstone, head of the American Council on Renewable Energy.