Washington Electric Co-op has been in the lead on progressive energy policy issues in Vermont for nearly three decades and will continue to provide that leadership going forward on behalf of our 11,000 member-owners and all Vermont ratepayers. We were the first utility to reach and exceed Vermont’s 4 percent statutory cap on net metering capacity, and we are continuing to accept new net metering applications.
Here are some examples of WEC’s leadership.
— WEC was an early adopter of demand-side management and energy efficiency in the early 1990s.
— It called for an end to the “black hole” Seabrook contracts, held by WEC and several other Vermont public power utilities, that were finally invalidated by the Vermont Supreme Court in 1989.
— WEC called for the closing of Vermont Yankee at the end of its 40-year operating permit — the only electric utility to do so.
— It called for more public involvement on the VELCO board, the statewide transmission owner.
— And WEC has supported the net metering law since its inception and continues to support small distributed renewable sources of power.
WEC has also been a strong supporter of the state’s 20-year energy plan and its goal of 90 percent renewables in electricity, transportation, thermal energy and land use by 2050. WEC built its Wrightsville hydro plant in 1985 and the Coventry Landfill gas-to-electricity plant in 2005, and was an early supporter of the Sheffield wind project. It gets additional power from Hydro-Quebec, Vermont small power producers, Niagara hydropower, and 1 megawatt of net metering. WEC also does not use herbicides on our rights of way.
In short, WEC has maintained progressive energy and environmental policies.
The Washington Electric Co-op board of directors at its Aug. 6 meeting voted to limit the size of net metering installations after Oct. 1 to no more than 5 kilowatts, pending consideration of changes to the net metering program during the upcoming Vermont legislative session.
Why did our co-op choose to make this decision? WEC, while continuing to be committed to progressive environmental energy policy, must also balance its fiduciary and regulatory responsibility to its member-owners to collect revenues in a fair and equitable manner and to maintain its distribution and transmission system. While we remain committed to promoting environmental values, we must still cover the costs necessary to run our co-op and comply with regulatory rules.
A few facts: The co-op supported the current net metering legislation passed in 2011, which set a maximum obligation or “cap” of 4 percent of each utility’s peak load for net metering installations. It allows net metering installations, which are mostly solar, to run the electric meter backward, receiving credit for each kilowatt-hour generated at the co-op’s highest rate of 21 cents, and also receive credit against the monthly member (customer) charge and energy efficiency charge. As of July, WEC has net metering installations equal to 6 percent of our peak load, or 50 percent above the 4 percent cap set by the Legislature, and expects this to increase over time. Hence, WEC has gone well above and beyond the cap, and we continue to allow net metering, albeit at a smaller size as of October. Other electric utilities that have reached the 4 percent cap have stopped taking new net metering applications. Another factor influencing the decision is that the Vermont Public Service Department recently raised the issue of whether an electric utility has authority to exceed the 4 percent cap.
As a cooperative we do not make money providing and selling power. Most folks are not aware that two-thirds of WEC’s 21 cent cost per kilowatt-hour goes to maintaining the most rural service territory in the state. We need to collect revenue to pay for poles, wires, transmission/distribution, storm restoration and business operations. Any excess dollars we collect are returned to members. If we are short dollars, we must raise rates.
Net metering members do not contribute the full cost of using WEC wires and poles; thus we must collect it from other members. All of our member-owners, including those with net metering installations, need and benefit from WEC’s investment in our poles and wires, and our more than $20 million investments in our Coventry Landfill generating plant, our Wrightsville hydro plant and our investment and contract with the Sheffield wind farm.
The WEC board feels that the dilemma we face, how to address the revenue losses from net metering, is the result of our meeting and exceeding the goals set by the Legislature — a wonderful accomplishment and success. It is now time for all parties involved who support meeting the state’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 to sit down together to determine how to proceed. This would help us achieve a win-win for all Vermonters and our planet. The WEC board and management look forward to being actively involved in this process over the next several months.
Barry Bernstein is president of the board of directors for Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier.MORE IN Commentary
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