New Energy Bill

This in from Seven Days:

John and Kay Antos don’t live off the grid, but thanks to the solar panels soaking up rays outside the couple’s hilltop home in Starksboro, their electric bills are negligible.

The Antoses are among the more than 1300 Vermonters enrolled in the state’s net-metering program, an experiment launched in 1999 that lets farmers, homeowners and businesses generate their own power using small, grid-connected solar, wind or biomass systems.

A few muddy steps from the Antoses’ red clapboard farmhouse is a 20-cell solar tracker that supplies the power for their hot-water heater, lights, electric stove and other appliances.

On cloudy days, when the panels don’t generate enough energy to power the house, the Antoses supplement with electricity from the local utility, Vermont Electric Cooperative, just like most of their neighbors. But on bright, sunny days, the panels produce more than enough power for their home. That’s when the electric meter spins backward.

The excess power, which is measured in kilowatt hours, goes back into the regional power grid and is applied as a credit to the Antoses’ future electric bills. As part of a power-sharing agreement — called “group net metering” — those energy credits are split between the Antoses and their daughter and son-in-law, who live “25 minutes by snowshoe” up the hill.

“It’s awfully green,” observes John Antos, a retired schoolteacher with a gravelly voice.

Last week, the Vermont House passed an energy bill designed to make it more attractive for Vermonters to produce their own power using net metering. If the legislation, H.56, becomes law, net-metered ratepayers like the Antoses would get even more value for the power their solar systems produce, further lowering their already minuscule electric bills.

The energy bill was a big news story last week, but not because of anything to do with net metering. Rather, the legislation provoked fierce fighting — and an intervention by Gov. Peter Shumlin — over a proposed 55¢ monthly surcharge on electricity customers to fund the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund. The idea was shelved after Shumlin promised lawmakers he’d come up with “a better idea.”

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