YVEA’s new power deal won’t change the co-op’s net metering policies
New contract includes same requirement to adhere to state minimums for net metering, so only fix would be increasing those minimums legislatively.
While Yampa Valley Electric Association’s new deal for wholesale power promises to give members more consistent rates for energy and accelerate the transition to renewable energy, it won’t change the co-op’s net metering policies.
Net metering is the accounting process for how bills are conducted for members who have solar on their homes and significant reductions in the potential size of these home solar systems went into place in January. While the previous residential max for size of the system was 25 kilowatts, today it stands at 10 kw. Limits for solar on commercial operations dropped from 150 kw to 25 kw
At a meeting with the Routt County Commissioners on Monday, June 5, YVEA CEO Steve Johnson said that policy wouldn’t change under the new deal with Guzman Energy.
“We have to follow state statutes,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Sonja Macys continued to push on the point, noting that state statutes do allow net-metering standards to be higher, it has just been the contract with Xcel Energy that required the co-op’s policy to mirror the state minimum. The new contract with Guzman — which won’t be put into effect until 2028 — has the same requirement, he said.
“It’s the same stipulation,” Megan Moore-Kemp, the co-op’s member relations manager, said. “Yes, you can go up, but our contract says we cannot.”
YVEA Board Member Tom Fox said he felt that increasing the net-metering policy would need a “legislative solution,” meaning if the Colorado Legislature were to increase state minimums, then the co-op’s policy would need to mirror that.
The reason for the policy is twofold, and neither has to do with trying to increase the amount of renewable energy.
From the wholesale power perspective, large home solar systems are essentially creating competition for the power they have already paid costs to provide to members. Fox said that this requires YVEA to pay a cost to the wholesale provider for that loss.
The other reason, and the reason YVEA used when it rolled out the changes last year, is that parts of YVEA’s system may not have the capacity to handle large home solar projects and could require upgrades. Limiting the amount of power these systems produce, allows more people to install a system that is sized to offset their own power without having to pay for system upgrades.
In a news release following the change last year, Johnson said the changes created more equity for future home solar installations. It also came with criticism from folks like Macys, who told Steamboat Pilot & Today in November that the change felt like “moving backward.”
Johnson also said YVEA wouldn’t allow virtual net metering under the new contract, which is where customers can purchase or lease solar energy from away from their homes and use it to offset their homes usage. A 2021 Colorado Law allowed virtual net metering, though it exempted co-ops like YVEA from needing to offer it.
That law was championed as opening the door to community solar projects, where individuals can invest in a centralized solar garden to offset their energy usage. Under the current landscape in the Yampa Valley, community solar gardens are difficult to do. Johnson said the only way something like that would be possible would be under a sales agreement, referencing a current solar project underway in Craig that is not a community solar project and is instead simply generating power for YVEA’s mix.
“If there’s projects in the future that the county would say, listen, if you do another project we’d like to partner with you to do something and do it under a sales agreement, it would work,” Johnson said. “If it’s under net metering we have a couple other hurdles we have to jump through.”
Macys said this was important because the county has an interest in building larger-scale solar in an effort to offset its usage, and currently they are limited from doing that in one central spot where it would be most efficient because of the virtual net metering policy on the books. Johnson again pointed to the same two reasons given earlier.
“It’s not that we’re trying to be unfair or disincentivize it, that’s not it at all,” Johnson said. “It just we’ve got to make sure we’re covering our costs and treating everybody fair.”
Still, YVEA’s new deal with Guzman will allow for more locally produced renewable energy in its total power mix so larger community partners like Routt County could buy into a larger community solar project, it just wouldn’t utilize virtual net metering. Moore-Kemp said the co-op is still working out how these community partners could participate in filling that 15% local renewable allowance.
“It was just signed last week,” Moore-Kemp said. “We are going to be presenting you with a process for how you can participate in that 15% carve out so that it’s clear and we will present it to all of our community partners. … We need just a little bit of time.”