By: Brad Kane
Connecticut’s attempts to create a self-sustaining clean energy industry that no longer needs government subsidies are being undercut by the state’s own laws, stifling millions of dollars in potential projects.
The latest snag has to do with virtual net metering (VNM), a subsidy-free program created in 2013 that allows certain utility ratepayers — cities, towns, farms and state-owned property — to offset the costs of a solar system by building larger arrays and sharing or selling the power to neighboring properties. Municipalities around the state have proposed 15 megawatts in solar projects under the program, all on closed landfills.
Those projects, however, might never come to fruition because the state VNM law caps the amount of electricity that the systems can collectively sell or share at $10 million. Furthermore, the law divides VNM projects into three categories — municipality, farm and state — and no category can use more than 40 percent of the $10 million cap.
As a result, the proposed municipal projects can’t generate more than $4 million of combined power, leaving more than half of the developments in the cold.
“Those projects are going to die on the vine,” said Paul Michaud, executive director and founder of the Hartford trade association Renewable Energy & Efficiency Business Association. “It is a very popular program. The municipalities would be eating it up.”
The VNM cap joins a string of other policy decisions since 2011 where Connecticut seemingly takes two steps forward and one step back toward Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s goal of creating a clean energy economy, Michaud said. Other issues included failing to exempt commercial renewable energy systems from property taxes, which slowed the rate of commercial solar installations until the law was changed in 2013.
There was also a three-year ban on wind turbine development that wasn’t lifted until 2014 after legislators approved regulations governing new installations.