There is a very important issue coming up for a legislative vote that pertains to all Minnesotans or electrical users in Minnesota. The omnibus jobs and energy bill that was passed in a House committee on April 10 would dismantle most of the state’s efforts to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by significantly weakening or repealing the laws that support these efforts. One of the most important regulations that the bill would change, something that has been successfully implemented nearly nationwide, is called “net metering.”
Net metering is what allows me, as a small producer of renewable energy, to store the excess energy I produce during optimal production periods for use at a later time when my energy needs exceed my production (such as at night for solar). This policy requires the power companies to accept any electrical production from small producers onto the grid to be distributed to neighbors or others close by when it is produced, then to return that electricity on a one-for-one basis when it is needed by the producer. Basically, net metering requires the power companies to act as an “electrical storage bank” for small producers, thus allowing for the capture of all energy possible when it is available. This is not a free service, either — all power producers pay a monthly fee to the power companies to hook up to the grid and operate their systems. The only other common method for capturing this energy for later use would be to have a battery bank that stores the power.
The most bizarre aspect of the proposed change in regulations by the power companies is that the energy is typically being produced at a time when the electric companies have the highest demand (during the daytime). Many parts of the country now experience “brownouts” due to heavy daytime electrical use, which a plethora of small producers spread around the area can help prevent. I am personally a big fan of on-site energy production, since there are very few losses between a local system and its user, which cannot be said for power plants or large commercial solar and wind farms. A very large part of the electricity produced by the big producers never makes it to the customer because of losses along the way. Just imagine how much extra coal or natural gas must be burned to account for these losses.
I believe that progress as our country grows will come not in its ability to build bigger and better power plants and grids, but in empowering small producers to take their future into their own hands and capture the energy readily available to all via wind, solar or other sources. I have had to deal with many of the realities facing renewable energies in my fight to bring micro wind power to our communities, but this is one issue I did not think I would even have to consider. Minnesota has been a leader in the renewable-energy field for many years, and now is not the time to revert to old policies.
The loss of net metering is a game-changer for the “small” renewable-energy industry and its clients, which makes no sense from a practical standpoint. It stifles one’s ability to go renewable and gives the leverage back to the power companies (some of the last true monopolies left in our society) over the small producer. Instead of returning to fossil fuels, Minnesota should be moving forward by increasing our renewable-energy standard, not squelching it.
If you agree that we should be aiming away from fossil fuels, as I do, then please do what I did and contact your legislators and let them know what you think.
Jay T. Nygard is president of Go Green Energy and co-founder of the Micro Wind Advisory Council.