The Connecticut House on Tuesday approved an extension of the state's net metering program through Dec. 31, 2021, after a 2018 law threatened to end the solar tariff by October 2019.
Omnibus Energy bill House Bill 5002 passed 146-0, after absorbing the original net metering expansion bill HB 7251. Renewables advocates and some lawmakers say HB 5002 doesn't go far enough in propelling clean energy forward in the state.
Green groups in Connecticut were pushing for a 100% carbon free mandate, protections on pipeline methane leaks, stronger energy efficiency programs and reducing fossil fuel reliance, but "none of that was taken into consideration," in this bill, Senior Policy Advocate and Connecticut Director at Acadia Center Amy McLean Salls told Utility Dive.
As state legislative sessions wrap up, legislators have their last chance to push policy through to their governor's desk.
For energy policy, that often means compromising on some provisions in order to push through policy priorities. Last week, Minnesota's legislative session ended with the passage of an omnibus energy bill advancing storage policy, but other energy bills, including a 100% carbon-free bill, failed to pass.
"What is typically done is to put everything into what we call an aircraft carrier, which is an amalgamated hodgepodge of different types of legislation, which usually has something important in there that most of us need to vote for," Connecticut Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D, who serves on the House Energy and Technology Committee, told Utility Dive.
"In this case, it was even more than that. … Not only was it an aircraft carrier, it actually undermined the original intent of the bill it was put on," he said, referring to HB 5002.
Net metering was the focus of HB 5002, but it also included a provision allowing the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection to approve power purchase agreements for up to 10 MW of anaerobic digestion generation capacity for electricity providers and raised the net metering cap from 10 MW to 20 MW.
Although raising, the net metering cap is generally a good thing for clean energy groups, solar advocates would have preferred to see the cap eliminated altogether.
"The industry really feels that any cap on virtual net metering is not okay. So that's one of the things that didn't go the way I think that the advocates would have liked," said McLean Salls.
The urgency of passing a bill to extend the net metering timeline from 2018's Senate Bill 9 was critical enough for a compromise, said Steinberg. In addition to ending net metering by October 2019, SB 9 would have replaced it with either a buy-all, sell-all tariff, comparable to former Republican Gov. Paul LePage's gross metering tariff in Maine, or a net fee-in-tariff, with a to-be-determined netting period.
Solar advocates in the state were concerned the phase-out and subsequent tariff replacement was a threat to the solar industry in the state.
"The market is currently facing a cliff," Sunrun Public Policy Manager Stephen Lassiter told Utility Dive after HB 7251 passed the House Energy and Technology Committee in March. "At this point, lawmakers understand that there's a problem. The utilities understand that there's a problem."
The bill was an effort to "pause" the net metering rollback and give utilities more time to come up with an alternative rate structure, as well as direct the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to come up with a value of solar study, said Steinberg.
"I don't think they knew what they were doing last year," said McLean Salls. "I think they really just were misguided and they weren't listening to us when we were raising the alarm about this last session."
Utilities, which supported the net metering phaseout in SB 9, say it shifts the costs from solar customers to non-solar customers. DEEP also supported SB 9, but for a different reason.
The alternative to net metering in SB 9 would provide compensation for behind-the-meter distributed generation "in a way that ideally was more sustainable, transparent, and had a better focus on paying what we think is paying the right price," DEEP Commissioner of Energy Mary Sotos told Utility Dive in April.
Both McLean Salls and Steinberg anticipate HB 5002 will pass the Senate as it currently stands next week. And clean energy advocates are banking on the governor's office to help move the state away from fossil fuel reliance.
"I have assurances that the governor's office is going to find some way to create that on their own auspices, which indeed could happen," said Steinberg. "But it's just a demonstration that when these bills come down at the very end of the session, as they typically do ... we're often forced to vote for something that we find underwhelming."