The future of small-scale renewable energy: Project 34890

This Tuesday I spoke at the PUC’s public hearing on Project 34890, which is charged with deciding on a net metering and interconnection policy for the deregulated markets in Texas. If that description sounds arcane and confusing to you, that’s because it is. In fact, in calling around to several investor-owned utilities last week, most of the people I spoke to had not a clue what I was talking about when I asked if they allowed net metering.

But the gist of it is this: if the rule proposed by the PUC passes, guaranteed incentives for individuals to invest in small renewable energy (putting solar panels on their roof, for example) will disappear.

As it stands, Texans are allowed to have a meter that can run both forward and backward, so if their solar panels are producing more energy than they are using at a given time, the meter runs backward and they are credited for the energy they are putting into the grid. These credits can go toward paying their electric bill. It turns out that they don’t need all their credits in a given month–the amount of electricity they produced was worth more than the amount electricity they used–then the electric provider just gets the excess for free. Sounds like a pretty fair deal for everyone involved.

But now, the PUC wants to require everyone to have meter(s) that record both inflow of energy and outflow. This means that individuals would have to pay for any electricity they use from the grid, no matter what, with absolutely no guarantee that the electricity they produce will be bought from them at all. This sounds…not fair.

When I spoke at the PUC’s hearing, I did so to raise the concerns of several small wind-turbine owners from Burkburnett that contacted Public Citizen to share how detrimental this ruling would be for them. Installing a wind turbine is an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. These individuals put up a wind turbine with the understanding that they would be reducing pollution, reducing their energy bills, and eventually recouping their investment through net metering.

The PUC’s proposed ruling reneges on that last part. The rule would leave owners of solar panels or wind turbines in financial duress–one couple told me that the new policy of the PUC would triple or quadruple their payback time. A small business that installs wind turbines, the Wind Eagle Corporation, may leave Texas entirely, since the ruling would shrink the market to those who could use 100% of the energy they produce, a small enough market to make business impossible.

We hope the PUC really heard the concerns of these citizens. Their role should really be to encourage individuals like these to keep up the good work of reducing a need to build more power plants, improving our air quality, and taking the energy problem into their own hands. Instead they propose to leave them high and dry on their investments. That’s just not good policy.

– Natalie Messer