May 5, 2010

New laws make it easier for small power producers

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

New laws on the books will make it easier for Marylander homeowners and businesses to sell power back to the grid if they own small generators like solar panels or wind turbines.

Until now, customers were limited in the amount of money they could save by generating more energy than they use, because the credit they could get from utilities would expire after one year.

The new law, passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly, removes the time limit. Customers may hold onto their credits until they need them to help pay energy bills. Alternatively, at the end of a 12-month period, they may request payment for the credits.

The legislation also dictates that the value of generation credits be calculated at the average price regional utilities pay for electricity. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the law Tuesday.

Del. Brian McHale, D-Baltimore City, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said all sides of the issue agreed the bill improved the law.

“It was surprising,” McHale said. “The utility companies agreed that it was unfair the way the law was currently implemented.”

The Public Service Commission is required to submit an annual report to the General Assembly about the status of net energy metering by February. But the 2010 report has yet to be finished, although the commission plans to release it within the next several weeks.

David Brosch is the co-founder of University Park Community Solar, LLC, a cooperative dedicated to installing solar panels in its College Park neighborhood. The group plans to install photovoltaic panels on the roof of a local church in May.

Brosch said the change will make Maryland more friendly for people who want to generate their own power.

“If you’re producing electricity you don’t want to not get credit for it or be paid for it,” he said. “So we’re definitely really happy that it’s occurred.”

Brosch said his organization’s main source of revenue will come through federal grants and other credits from utility companies. University Park Community Solar expects to break even by the fifth or sixth year of energy production through solar panels.

“The federal government’s stimulus package will provide a 30 percent return [on our investment in solar panels] in the form of grants,” he said. “And we’ll get about $18,000 from renewable energy credits in year one. That that is result of an attempt to try to get utilities to do renewable energy, and if they’re not able to meet goal, they buy it from other folks.”

University Park Community Solar will definitely make use of the option to request payment for surplus credits at the end of a 12-month period, Brosch said.

“After all, we’re a for-profit organization,” he said. “If we do get some money coming in, we’d like to try to maximize the return for investors.”