As the push for more renewable energy use continues, some individuals, businesses, and organizations are responding by installing a small, onsite solar or wind power system.
In about 40 states, one of the financial incentives for going this route is some form of a program called "net metering." One benefit of net metering is that it allows the operator of a small onsite system to get credit for sending electricity back to the grid when producing excess electricity (sometimes called "spinning the meter backward").
But there are large differences in net metering programs between and within states. They differ in the amount of money credited (due to variables such as system size and type, such as residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural); the type and size of fees charged; the availability and size of rebates; liability insurance requirements; and the ability to carry over credit to the following month. There also are varying degrees of difficulty in connecting to the grid.
To summarize and grade the maze of state policies, four organizations- the Network for New Energy Choices, the Solar Alliance, the Vote Solar Initiative, and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council - released a report on Dec. 13, 2007.
To look at the differences within your state, you'll likely need to do some sleuthing, and track down the policies of individual utilities. An example of the results of such legwork is John Ingold's Denver Post article on Jan. 30, 2008: "Disparity in compensation for solar use sprouts bills."
On Feb. 6, 2008, Ingold followed up with more coverage of the legislative angle, as the state's politicians continued to haggle over state policies: "'Homegrown' power gets boost from 2 measures."
- Department of Energy, Net Metering Policies; and Energy Information Administration, 2005 report on net metering.
- Interstate Renewable Energy Council: State-by-state comparisons of net metering policies and utility programs, updated monthly; model net metering rules.
- Example of 2007 attempt at federal legislation on state net metering policies, sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and 39 others: H.R. 729.
- Net metering is also addressed in many other recent federal bills, but none appear to have hot prospects. To get details, search for "net metering" here.
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (includes information on federal incentives).