DPU OK’s new charges on future net metering customers

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The Department of Public Utilities in January issued its first-ever approval of a new monthly charge on electricity customers who get net metering credits for solar energy that they produce.
Under the DPU’s ruling, Eversource will be able to impose a new “monthly minimum reliability contribution” on net metering customers who come online after Dec. 31, 2018. The new charge will not affect existing solar projects or low-income customers, according to state officials.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said the new fee will help pay for electrical infrastructure, but a number of stakeholders say it will have a chilling effect on the solar industry.
Eversource sought the fee under a 2016 state law that allows the DPU to review and approve proposals from utility companies for a monthly minimum reliability contribution to be included on electric bills for customers that receive net metering credits.
At the time, the MMA expressed concerns about the impact of this additional charge on municipal projects, particularly projects that were planned prior to the potential new charge.
The MMA participated in discussions at the DPU, along with solar stakeholders, to try to protect municipalities from added fees for solar projects. The MMA also supported legislation, filed by Sen. Anne Gobi, that would exempt municipal ratepayers, low-income customers and community solar ratepayers from any monthly minimum reliability contribution.
The DPU ruling is generating debate on Beacon Hill. On Jan. 30, the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy held an oversight hearing on the DPU’s decision to approve Eversource’s demand charge proposal as part of a monthly minimum reliability contribution on net metering customers.
In a joint statement, the committee’s co-chairs, Rep. Thomas Golden and Sen. Michael Barrett, said that “no one expected the utilities and DPU to take this minimum bill to such unprecedented lengths” and questioned why an alternative strategy was not implemented.
Vote Solar, a solar advocacy group, and solar developers (SunRun and the trade group Energy Freedom Coalition of America) have filed appeals of the decision.
The DPU order issued on Jan. 5 increased distribution rates in addition to approving the new charges. Late last year, the DPU approved a $12.2 million rate increase for customers in eastern Massachusetts and a $24.8 million increase for western Massachusetts customers.
Through its subsidiaries, NSTAR Electric and Western Massachusetts Electric Company, Eversource has 1.7 million customers, including 1.4 million electric customers in 140 communities and 300,000 gas customers in 51 communities.