No official net metering? No issue for SolarCity in this market
As solar debates flare up across the United States, SolarCity Corp. says it’s not pushing to change the hands-off approach to rate design and net metering in Texas’ competitive power market.
“We don’t have a big ask in the competitive area,” said Christine Wright, who leads the solar company’s policy efforts in Texas.
The pro-market stance is in line with comments often heard on a range of issues from the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), where Wright used to be on staff.
But her thoughts at SolarCity are noteworthy in part because solar companies have spent considerable energy promoting net metering — which enables customers to receive retail rates for excess power sent to the grid — in proceedings around the country.
Utilities often argue that net metering shifts grid costs to non-solar users, setting up skirmishes in states such as Nevada and Arizona. Louisiana is grappling with its own path forward as some utilities say they’ve hit a cap and are turning to approaches other than traditional net metering.
This month, SolarCity was part of a group that issued a white paper saying a cost-benefit analysis should occur before a state moves to change net-metering standards for rooftop solar panel users.
In recent interviews, Wright suggested the structure of Texas’ competitive area will allow solar to grow without a formal net-metering setup. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s main grid operator, manages a region with a competitive wholesale market as well as retail choice in select cities, such as Dallas and Houston.
“The ERCOT market is the best market,” Wright said, “and there’s just a lot of opportunity here. It’s very exciting to be in the solar industry now in Texas.”
To aid its Lone Star plans, SolarCity teamed up with Texas-based MP2 Energy last year to offer a program in Dallas-Fort Worth that acts like net metering. The partnership recently said it’s expanding to Houston.
The plan goes like this: SolarCity installs panels, and homeowners work with MP2 as the retail electric provider, or REP, for additional power needs. MP2 tracks production and consumption each month, with credits at the full retail rate — including wires charges — for excess production. Consumers can carry forward extra power to other monthly bills during a year.
“There are offerings in the retail market today that allow the customer to capture that value of solar and allows the REP to manage the value of peak generation that solar provides and match with the wholesale market,” Wright said.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said Texas had about 566 megawatts of solar energy installed through the first quarter of this year, putting it at No. 10 in the country. Some 410 MW came from utility-scale projects. Another 91 MW fell into the residential category, with 65 MW from commercial.
SEIA said more than 4,600 MW of solar may be installed over five years, part of a drum beat of optimism that solar finally will take off in Texas. There are around 500 solar companies working in the state, including 173 in the contractor/installer category, 44 project developers and 44 distributors, according to the association’s latest data.
Wright, in slides for a Gulf Coast Power Association presentation in Houston last week, cited challenges that have hampered Texas solar: short retail contract terms, intermittency and the difficulty of capturing behind-the-meter value.