By Guy Page
A panel of New England state employee ‘ratepayer advocates’ hope to control the region’s rising electricity rates by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand for electricity at peak-demand hours, they said at a recent forum in Burlington. But they said little about reducing one significant power cost driver: the high, state-mandated per-kilowatt price of solar power.
The Ratepayer Advocate Roundtable took place last week at the quarterly meeting ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group, held in Burlington’s Contois Auditorium. It featured Lou Cecere of the Vermont Department of Public Service and his peer ratepayer advocates from the other five New England states.
They talked up the need for more energy efficiency and demand management. Saving energy and reducing peak demand are indeed important rate-reduction tools. But the panel paid scant attention to controlling the cost of high-priced residential solar power, according to one Vermont observer and an onsite report from the industry newsletter, RTO Insider.
Vermont’s, and the rest of New England’s, heavy investment in solar power and its top ten in the nation electricity rates appears clear. U.S. Dept. of Energy state-by-state electricity rates and solar power usage show that where solar power is mandated and heavily used, costs are high.
All six New England states are in the top ten for electricity rates. All states have ‘net metering’ laws that pay residential home owners a fixed, above-market price for the electricity their panels produce. Non-solar homeowners in effect subsidize the above-market payments. Five of the New England states – with only New Hampshire excepted – are in the top twelve for residential solar generation per capita.
Not surprisingly, sunny politically-blue states Hawaii and California top the per-capita solar list. But New England’s cloudier blue states also make the top ten – see graphs.
To explain their support for the renewable-power driven transition of the New England power grid, the ratepayer advocates also signaled they are trying to redefine their roles. “We’re trying to broaden the definition of what a consumer interest is,” said Bill Dornbos of the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel, making the case – RTO Insider noted – that consumer needs include both low rates and a healthy climate and environment.
“Where would we be without these ratepayer advocates,” longtime lawmaker and volunteer energy consumer advocate Warren Van Wyck of Addison County mused in an email to the Vermont Daily Chronicle after attending the quarterly meeting.