Throughout 2023, REV continued to fight for a fair, predictable, and efficient regulatory process for renewable energy and energy storage projects before the PUC and a fair evaluation of the benefits of renewables by the Department of Public Service.
At the PUC, REV pushed for improvements in four ongoing rulemaking cases (5.100 – Net-Metering, 5.400 – Section 248 CPGs, 5.500 – Interconnection, and a proposed new energy storage rule). REV won incremental improvements in several of the rulemaking cases but the PUC has generally continued to shift the regulatory playing field against new renewable development, highlighting the need for Legislative action.
REV also released the report, No Good Reason: Vermont’s Regulatory Roadblocks to Renewable Energy and Our Fight Against Climate Change, which details the challenges of building renewable energy facilities in Vermont. The report presents 10 recent permitting case studies demonstrating three barriers to permitting new renewable energy projects that are increasing in frequency:
- lack of timeliness in the review process
- the inconsistent application of existing rules
- highly subjective evaluation criteria
Before the DPS, REV sought to ensure that a DPS-led modeling effort of different Renewable Energy Standard reform options focused on additionality and true greenhouse gas reductions while accurately capturing the value of distributed energy resources in a highly electrified future.
Finally, in conjunction with the Agency of Natural Resources, REV held a three-part stakeholder discussion series, examining the future of solar panel recycling in Vermont.
Public Utility Commission Proceedings
Three rules that have been in the rulemaking process for multiple years – Rules 5.100, 5.400, and 5.500 – are nearing implementation and will likely go into effect in late winter/early spring of 2024. The rulemaking process consists of an informal PUC-led process and a formal process where the PUC submits proposed rules to the Secretary of State’s Office and then for review by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR). In November and December of this year, all three of these rules went before LCAR. Rules 5.400 and 5.500 were approved by LCAR as written while approval for Rule 5.100 was delayed based on testimony by REV and other witnesses that REV recruited to testify before the Committee.
5.100: Net-metering Rulemaking (19-0855-RULE):
Net-metering has been Vermont’s most successful program for deploying renewable in the state and throughout the 5.100 rulemaking process, REV argued that any proposed changes to the rule which impede the rapid deployment of net-metered systems should face a high burden of proof to demonstrate that they are addressing an issue that is vital to the public interest and that could not be addressed in a less burdensome manner.
Throughout this multi-year effort, REV successfully pushed back a DPS proposal to drastically restructure net-metering compensation on an avoided cost basis, limited several proposed changes to preferred sitting that would have made these criteria more restrictive, expanded the definition of what constitutes a parking lot to include unpaved surfaces, and supported changes to as simplifying the process for extending a Certificate of Public Good
Several provisions in the proposed rule, however, are likely to slow the deployment of net-metered systems and do not provide other clear value for Vermonters. REV has argued that changes to preferred siting criteria that limit tree clearing, the treatment of system expansions, and a vague prohibition on participation in wholesale markets will limit the ability of local planning bodies to support renewable generation in their jurisdictions, unfairly disadvantage early adopters of solar power, and stifle business innovations that would benefit Vermont ratepayers while providing little public benefit.
On 12/14 REV and other allies testified to LCAR that changes limiting “significant forest clearing” were arbitrary and that changes to the compensation structure for system expansion larger than 15 kW would discourage the very kind of low-impact project that the PUC purports to support. Based on this testimony, LCAR opted to delay making a final decision on Rule 5.100 until January 2024.
View the full LCAR proceeding (Rule 5.100 proceedings begin at the 13-minute mark) or read a summary of the how Net Metering Rule Should Support System Expansions and Avoid Arbitrary Siting Restrictions
5.400: Section 248 Permiting Rulemaking (21-0861):
In the final proposed Rule 5.400, the PUC proposed eliminating intervention thresholds for granting adjoining landowners party status in Section 248 cases. This change threatens the viability of the Section 248 permitting process and was opposed by REV, along with several Vermont utilities and VELCO throughout the Rulemaking process. REV testified to the Legislative LCAR asking the Committee to oppose changes to 5.400 that would make the permitting process yet longer and more expensive.
REV argued that changes that would expand the number of individuals and entities that are entitled to advanced notice of CPG petitions, notice that CPG petitions had been filed, and that were eligible to obtain automatic parts status in Section 248 cases both exceed the PUC’s authority and were contrary to the Legislative Intent behind section 248. After testimony by REV and others, LCAR declined to approve the proposal and requested additional analysis of the PUC’s authority to make the proposed changes from the Office of Legislative Council. View the full LCAR proceeding (5.400 testimony begins at 5:15 minutes into the recording).
Unfortunately, the Office Legislative Council ultimately agreed that the PUC did have the authority to make these changes on the grounds that it had made similar changes in other rulemaking proceedings in the past and LCAR approved the Rule as written. The PUC has filed forms with the Secretary of State that will enable the new rule to go into effect on March 1, 2024.
5.500: Interconnection Rulemaking (19-0856-RULE): The proposed changes to the interconnection rule raised fewer concerns than the proposed changes to 5.100 and 5.400. Interconnection timelines remain similar to the timelines in the existing rule and the study process has become somewhat more flexible (e.g. by replacing the mandatory “Fast Track” screening with a waivable “Preliminary Review). In August REV suggested opportunities for additional improvements in the Rule by more widely recognizing the implications of export flexibility from sources such as storage and planned curtailment, extending the period over which an Interconnection Agreement can be executed and a project energized, and eliminating new language requiring “as-built drawings” be submitted to the Interconnecting Utility but these suggested changes were largely rejected by the PUC
This Rule was approved by LCAR in late November. The PUC has released draft versions of new interconnection application forms and is soliciting comments on these forms before January 19th. Once these forms are finalized an implementation date will be set for the Rule.
Energy Storage Rulemaking (21-3883-RULE): The PUC recently completed a five-part webinar series with the U.S. DOE’s Office of Electricity Energy Storage and Sandia National Laboratories to inform the rulemaking process. REV monitored these webinars as part of its participation in this rulemaking process and expects a draft rule to be released in 2024.
Department of Public Service Stakeholder Advisory Group
REV participated in the Department’s Stakeholder Advisory Group for its 100% RES or CES Technical Analysis process. From the beginning of this process, REV argued that any assertions of emissions reductions must be tied to either a reduction in energy use or to a change in the generating mix used to supply ISO-NE and that purchases of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from pre-existing resources did not result in emissions reductions. Ultimately, the modeling reflected this position, and Tier 1 RECs were not credited for reducing emissions.
REV also advocated for a forward-looking analysis that captured the benefits of distributed energy resources in an environment with a modernized grid, more storage, and more load flexibility but these considerations were not incorporated into the modeling, likely resulting in an overstatement of the cost of increasing Tier II.
Despite these shortcomings, combined modeling by Sustainable Energy Advantage (SEA) and the Brattle Group showed that Vermont can get to 100% renewable energy, including 20% Tier II by 2030, with minimal impact on Vermont’s economy. SEA modeled the direct societal benefits and rate impacts moving to 2035 requirements of 40% Tier I, 30% Tier II, and 30% new regional renewables- a model that REV and our environmental allies proposed in the last Legislative session. The model showed that:
- The proposal would provide a societal benefit of more than $1.5 billion, far exceeding the costs of $660 million.
- Greenhouse gas reductions are only achieved by expanding requirements for new renewables (either Tier II or the new regional renewable Tier) not by expanding Tier I.
- Rate impacts would not exceed 2 cents/kWh even through 2035.
REV disagrees with some of the modeling assumptions used by the Department and has been emphasizing that we think it is more likely than not that these results overstate the costs to ratepayers. Even assuming that these costs are accurate, however, marco-economic modeling by the Brattle Group showed that the economic benefits of promoting in-state generation would significantly offset the impact of higher electric rates leaving Vermont’s GDP essentially unchanged over the study horizon.
Together these results show that even with some unfavorable assumptions RES reform provides significant societal benefits with minimal cost to Vermont’s economy.
Solar Recycling Stakeholder Discussion
REV and the Agency of Natural Resource (ANR) cohosted the final in a series of stakeholder discussions on end-of-life disposal issues for solar module and battery storage equipment in Vermont. Solar module recycling is still a developing industry and the volume of modules that are being decommissioned is not yet high enough to support ubiquitous, cost-effective recycling but opportunities for reuse and recycling are expanding. View a recording of the discussion and best practice factsheet here.