Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dr. John Seidel in Chestertown Spy Futures Study

View the great video of Dr. John Seidel, Director of CES, courtesy of the Chestertown Spy.

Climate Action Coordinator Briggs Cunningham in Kent County News

Support generated for 'aggregate' metering, Seen as a boon for alternative energy programs

Published: Thursday, June 30, 2011 4:36 PM CDT
CHESTERTOWN — There could be an aggregate meter in your future.

To be precise, “aggregate” metering is when electrical use by some institution or group, no matter how many physical wires to separate electric meters there are, all goes into one big bucket for billing purposes.

At the moment that can’t be done in Maryland. Briggs Cunningham said last week that aggregate metering is important for solar power on farms, by businesses and by local governments, especially in rural areas.

Businesses and governments and other institutions with multiple locations have many meters. Some buildings use a lot of juice and some use a little.

Cunningham, Climate Action Coordinator at the Washington College Center for Environment & Society, said the current Maryland regulations limit how much solar electrical energy an installation can generate to, roughly, the amount used at a particular electric meter plus a little.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, which controls electric utilities, is taking comments on a decision it plans to make in the near future on whether to allow aggregate metering. The state’s net metering regulations allow generating power for on-site use and selling excess power back to the electric company. But as they stand, they force users to have a separate wind, solar or other alternative energy installation for each meter.

One piece of the puzzle is in place: Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a law in May 2011 which requires power companies to buy back excess power at the retail rate, not the wholesale rate.

With it, for example, one large group of solar panels at the Chestertown wastewater plant could be designed to generate enough power to offset the use by town hall, the water plant, and at the wastewater operation.

Without it, Chestertown would have to install and operate three or more separate systems.

One large set of solar panels somewhere in the county on school property could be designed to offset the electricity consumption of multiple school buildings.

Without it, the school board would have to fund solar panels for every individual school and office building.

It is not limited to solar. Any alternative source is eligible. A farmer could build and operate a system burning switchgrass, providing enough power for multiple buildings. Under the proposal, “One account would incorporate all meters, and any power generated onsite would be credited to the overall account,” Cunningham said.

Chestertown attorney Phil Hoon said he represents Dr. Henry Sears, who wants to install solar power for his agricultural operations. He said Tuesday the places where power is used, such as irrigation pivots, are widely scattered, and aggregate metering “makes or breaks the transaction.”

Hoon sent a letter favoring the policy to the Public Service Commission. “I’m in favor of it, both professionally and very much so personally,” he said Tuesday. “It’s what seems right for our society and culture and communities.”

The college is particularly interested in whether solar generation at 215 Washington Ave. can be designed to supply green power to more than just that one building, Cunningham said.

It allows small entities to achieve some economies of scale. A village, such as Kennedyville, could form a nonprofit coop. The residential meters for all members would be combined in one account. An array of solar panels at a suitable location would provide juice to households, instead of having solar panels set up, house by house.

Cunningham added, “The county is interested. They have facilities spread out all over the place. The schools are interested – their attorney is researching it for the board of ed.”

On the other side are the power companies. “They don’t want other people generating their own power,” said Cunningham. “One of their arguments is that they’re concerned about the stability of the power system, figuring out how much to generate” if there are many small providers of solar power.

Delaware’s PSC is also considering aggregate net metering rules.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council notes the Delaware regulation includes: “If a customer has multiple meters under the same account or different accounts, regardless of the physical location and rate class, the customer may aggregate meters for the purpose of net metering regardless of which individual meter receives energy from a distributed generation facility, provided the system does not exceed 110% of the customer’s aggregate electrical consumption of the individual meters or accounts that the customer is entitled to aggregate.”

“As a resident of Kent County, I’ll say it would be a good thing,” Cunningham said.

According to college spokeswoman Kay Macintosh, the college has not offered its comments to the PSC and has taken no position yet.

The Public Service Commission is still taking public comments for and against aggregate net metering.

To see the PSC web page with comments which have already been submitted, type the words “Maryland PSC meter aggregation admin docket results” into Google.

Letters should reference “Admin Docket FM41” and should be addressed to Terry Romine, Maryland Public Service Commission, 6 St. Paul St. 16th Floor, Baltimore MD 21202.