NERA’s petition to FERC must be dismissed outright

The attempt to end solar net metering faces overwhelming and bipartisan opposition.

The solar industry is under attack as a secretive group tries to undermine Net Metering, an important policy for distributed solar. The industry needs you to take action today to help save this critical policy.

On April 14, an organization calling itself the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA) filed a petition demanding that FERC declare exclusive authority over the prices that net metering customers receive for energy generated from on-site by distributed generation and rooftop systems. This petition is problematic for many reasons and should be dismissed outright by FERC.

Who is NERA?

Although NERA claims to represent New England ratepayers, the group does not disclose its members or funding sources; it is unclear how the outcome of this petition would affect NERA’s constituents, and some argue this lack of transparency is reason enough for FERC to dismiss it. In a recent letter, members of Congress urged FERC to require more transparency from NERA:

“It is also unclear based on public information whether this group actually represents any New England interests – consumer or corporate – and if it does, it is unclear why a group that advocates for ratepayers in New England is asking FERC for a sweeping order preempting net metering nationwide. NERA should disclose its membership to FERC, so parties can understand who is asking for these important changes that will affect the 45 states with net metering laws in place.”

While we don’t know for certain whom NERA represents or from where they receive funding, they have a reputation for opposing renewable energy policies and aligning with investor-owned utilities. It is highly plausible that NERA is acting in bad faith by representing undisclosed corporate interests rather than the ratepayers it claims to represent. 

What does the petition demand?

This petition is a clear attempt by anti-renewable interests to end Net Metering, a policy that has been wildly successful in advancing the deployment of solar in many states. Vote Solar has compiled a helpful brief on the petition, found here. In summary, the petition does the following:

  • Demands that FERC declare federal jurisdiction over net metering programs that states have voluntarily adopted. 
  • Seeks to overturn previous decisions by FERC in which net metering programs were found to be retail transactions between utilities and customers, subject to state jurisdiction. 
  • Fundamentally mischaracterizes net metering.
  • Is an attempt by NERA to end net metering as we know it.  

If NERA is successful with its petition, it could result in the following:

  • Net metering customers would receive a wholesale rate for the energy they export to the grid, which is often a fraction of the retail rate that many customers currently receive. 
  • Pre-existing state net metering programs could be invalidated, not grandfathered. 
  • Remote net metering and community solar programs could be invalidated.
  • A number of additional consequences for states and utility commissions. 

Should FERC delay dismissing this petition, lingering uncertainty will slow private investment into distributed renewables and disrupt one of the fastest growing industries in the nation during a period of recovery from a pandemic and an economic slump. A prompt dismissal of the petition will uphold precedent, preserve state authority over net metering programs, and protect the investments of 2.3 million net metered customers in the US. 

Why the petition faces near-universal and bipartisan opposition

As referenced above, on May 26th Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to FERC opposing the petition and demanding that NERA disclose its membership. In Georgia, where a net metering program was recently approved, PSC vice-chair Tim Echols (a Republican) submitted a letter strongly opposing the petition. And groups such as Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship and the Center for Rural Affairs have filed comments opposing the petition, emphasizing the importance of preserving state jurisdiction over net metering programs. 

The petition also faces broad opposition from a variety of stakeholders, including state regulators, state legislators, members of Congress, attorneys general, rural cooperatives, solar industry groups, and more. 

How can we take action against the petition?

Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors have set up SaveSolar.org for taking action against the NERA petition and have planned a day of action today, Wednesday, June 10. Please add your voice and share www.savesolar.org on social media. Encourage your friends, colleagues, and even competitors to take action before June 15th. The bright future of distributed solar may be at stake.

James Reilly analyzes the regulatory and public policy landscape for CleanCapital.