Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Net Metering

It is a little bit under the radar - there was a mention on the radio last week and this morning I saw a short article in the local newspaper. The idea is 'Net Metering', which is in short the concept of customers producing their own power and contributing to the provincial power grid.

I have thought about this for a long time. In particular, I have thought about it while chugging away fruitlessly on my stationary bicycle, an activity designed to reduce my girth (it hasn't) and improve my health (it probably has; I know I don't get lower back pain any more).

At any rate, while I know that my exertions would probably only dimly power a light bulb, it seems to me that I would feel like I was getting something more out of the exercise were I to know that I'm also powering my home.

Now I don't know whether there exist power-conversion kits for stationary bicycles yet. Mine is, in fact (and ironically), a net consumer of power, as it required batteries to light the little LCD display. Even so, there are many ways someone at home can create their own power - little windmills, solar panels, press-ganged pets, the like.

So I wrte to NB Power asking for details on the program and this morning the reply came back, which I pass on here:

Policy A customer may connect a generation unit that uses renewable fuels and has a nameplate rating of up to 100 kW to the NB Power Distribution - Customer Service (Disco) grid. The output of the generation unit may be used to offset the customer's own consumption. Monthly credits not used within any month may be carried forward and used to reduce future consumption until March 31 of each year.

Enrolment Limits The aggregate capacity of net metering projects and embedded generation on the distribution system within NB Power territory is capped at 21 MW.

NB Power Consultation Before the proposed generation facility installation is initiated, the customer must apply to Disco for necessary approvals to join the program.

Renewable Fuels The electricity that is generated must be in compliance with Environment Canada's Environmental Choice Program published in "CERTIFICATION CRITERIA DOCUMENT CCD-003" and must be generated from: alternative use electricity; biogas-fuelled electricity; biomass-fuelled electricity; solar-powered electricity; water-powered electricity; wind-powered electricity.

Connection Details The technical requirements for connection are recorded in the Technical Specifications for Independent Power Producers.

Metering Disco will provide a meter that will record customer's consumption and customer's net excess generation in accordance with Disco's meter reading procedures. The generator will be responsible for providing a live phone line to the meter.

Billing Monthly energy consumption will be reduced by the customer's generation. The customer will be billed at the appropriate retail rate for the balance of their requirements. Any net excess generation within a billing cycle will be carried forward to the next billing cycle. At the end of March in each year, any accumulated net excess generation will be zeroed out without compensation to the generators.

Associated Documents Application for Net Metering, Agreement for Net Metering, Technical Specification for Independent Power Producers, FAQ's, Rate Schedules and Policies
OK, well it's not A-B-C simple. So it's not (yet) like buying a microwave and plugging it in. No new technology ever is.

But here's the thing. Though total power contribution is capped at 21 megawatts, that is still a non-zero contribution to the province's demand of (as I recall) 800 megawatts. And even though you don't actually make money off the plan (it is only applied to your own consumption) it nonetheless enables people to contribute to the power grid.

And I think this is the way forward. It is the way forward because it supports (the beginnings of) a distributed energy generation plan, rather than the centralized mega-plant system we use today.

When we look at the cost of things like the Lepreau nuclear plant renovations, or the cost of the orimulsion deal, or even New Brunswick's coal-fired plants (that are among the worst polluters in North America), the thought of moving toward a distributed grid using renewable sources looks a lot more promising.