Greenrock is very positive about the agreement, as we noted in the January newsletter, and it represents a major step forward for Bermuda and allows us to join 63 other countries of the world that already offer net-metering . There are still a number of places where we have concern and these are detailed below. There are also commercial issues between the existing Solar installers and Belco, but Greenrock is a sustainable development group, and it is not in our mission to get involved in this area of the debate. Suffice it to say this is the first time Belco history they have found them selves in competition with other companies and the experience is not expected to be without teething problems, even though the amount of power renewable technologies will generate in the first 5 years will probably remain under 1% of Belco's current generating capacity.

Looking at the basic outline of the proposed agreement, at the moment customers are limited to either solar or wind generation.There are other options available for renewable generation like tidal, fuel cell, or ocean current technologies , so perhaps Belco's concerns would not be with the type of energy generation but its size and system connection to the grid. The type of technology used for energy generation would be more of a governmental concern and as such should be subjected to government approval. As long as the system can generate safe renewable energy there is probably a case for it to be allowed to connect to the grid.

Here is Greenrock's position and recommendations on the details of the Net-metering agreement. The proposed agreement is available to the public online via Govt. website..

1. Belco's Proposed limit of 750 customers with a 10 KW limit.

The commission should enable Net-metering fully. There will be problems with both the customer and the installer as the 750 deadline approaches, as installers won't want to be left with unsaleable stock and consumers will not want to purchase an expensive system if the price on electricity returned to the grid is not guaranteed. In a Greenrock discussion with Belco, they claimed willingness to extend the limit, saying they wanted to see how situation is developing and if there is excess power to harvest or not. Perhaps they should be allowed to suspend new applications for a 3 month period after the first 750 customers are added in order to sample data, but then continue on same terms. In discussion with Belco, they feels the 750 target is far off, but it is still a roadblock to the uptake of systems. It would also be difficult for a new renewable industry to develop if there is an artificial limit placed on the growth of the industry.

In regards to the 10KW limit, typically other jurisdictions have set this limit at up to 2 MW for Net-metering. The worst limit for generating capacity in the U.S.A is 25KW for Wyoming, California allows 1000 KW, Florida allows 2000 KW and Arizona has no limit on net metering capacity. There is no reason for Bermuda to become the poorest jurisdiction in the world for capacity limit. Perhaps a 25KW limit would be more appropriate as a starting point.

2. Customer liable for cost of new meter of modifying existing meter.

Last year Belco was quoting a $1000 dollar charge to change a meter for non-purenergy customers. This is a 60 minute operation. Normally the utility bears the cost of the meter, and given that Belco are potentially receiving free electricity at time of need (midday during summer being a prime example of Belco needing maximum power), perhaps this should be considered part of Belco's normal duty rather than a chargeable item, as they benefit from excess power being fed into the grid at different locations. Greenrock has spoken to Belco on this issue and confirmed the meters required are not special or 'smart' meters, only normal meters, therefore as with other customers, no charge should apply.

3. Belco's proposed monthly billing and credit of the customer.

It would be simpler and cheaper for Belco to settle the account with customers every 12 months, as solar generation is by nature seasonable. Belco will find themselves issuing credits to many customers for the summer, then claiming it all back during the winter. The model other jurisdictions have used is to settle annually to avoid this continual credit and refund situation that wastes accounting and banking time for all concerned. This however, does not deal with Bermuda fluctuating Oil price, so this may be the reason Belco has pushed for this option. Price could be averaged over the 12 month period.

4. Inspection of equipment.

Belco under terms of their agreement has to inspect all items connected to the grid, however some installers think there is an opportunity for Belco to exploit and otherwise hinder approval of non-Purenergy customers. Should there be a clause that binds Belco to fair practise and to behaving in a timely fashion with accountability? The independent installers have also there is a well qualified team of Govt. inspectors who already inspect Solar on a regular basis for non-grid systems, so perhaps that is an option if Belco is deemed to be acting anti-competitvley, by being biased or unhelpful in inspections. A certified solar inspector employed by Govt. would be the gold standard for inspections.

5. Insurance

The Customer is required to have liability insurance. This is not a necessity in other jurisdictions, and where it is, the customer is typically limited to $100K and homeowners insurance typically covers this amount as standard.However, a properly installed system with all inverters and safety disconnects is a safe system, also all homeowners have electrical systems on their property that are potentially lethal, yet homeowners are not required to insure. One scenario could be 'gouging' by insurance companies as is often the case with new insurance policies, that could slow uptake of these technologies.

6. Feed in Tariffs

It is worth noting that many other jurisdictions net metering has been abandoned in favour of a 'Feed-in -Tariff' , as t he success of European and global feed in policies has encouraged American policy makers to consider feed-in tariffs at the federal, state, and local level. A Feed-in-Tariif pays you more than the value of the electricity you generate, typically two or three times it's market value. Bills have been introduced in at least eight U.S states to establish feed-in tariffs, a step further than net metering. Two municipal utilities have proceeded without legislation. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) introduced a bill to encourage nationwide feed-in tariffs in the U.S. House during the summer of 2008. Feed-in Tariffs have been shown to stimulate and help grow a new industry and encourage uptake of systems by consumers to the benefit of the environment and homeowner. However, Bermuda is a country whose cash reserves have been severely depleted, so it is perhaps unreasonable to expect Govt. to offer a Tariff like this, as Belco could not be expected to shoulder the burden.

Until the commission approves the final net-metering agreement it is difficult to encourage the purchase of solar panels or the installation of turbines, as the return on the panels is not guaranteed. It is possible to apply for planning now and GN112 at the planning dept. gives requirements and guidelines for those wishing to install solar panels. Those installing small amounts of panels on rooftops benefit from being considered a 'minor work' and can obtain permits in just a few days, those wishing to ground mount panels and install larger systems will have to complete the full planning process , which can take several months .

Typical times to repay an installed Solar panel setup are in the 7-10 year timeframe, and panels are expected to last at least 25 years with many exceeding this target. Govt currently has a rebate scheme for those choosing to use an official installer whereby you can reclaim potentially thousands of dollars of the cost of your system (see our October newsletter). Greenrock helped to clear duty tariffs on items like inverters and all the equipment connected with solar panels, meaning there should be no duty to pay on the inverter or panels.

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