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Vermonters No Longer Barred from Going Solar

Governor Peter Shumlin signed the net metering bill into law Tuesday, freeing certain utility customers who were unable to install solar panels on their homes.
EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. - Governor Peter Shumlin signed the net metering bill into law Tuesday, freeing certain utility customers who were unable to install solar panels on their homes.

The sun was shining on Seth Gardner's dairy farm where Shumlin signed it--which is good, because the farm is entirely run by solar power.

"I wanted to the farm to be energy neutral," said Gardner. The McKnight farm, which is also organic, installed solar panels in 2012. Gardner did it right in the nick of time--his utility company, Washington Electric Co-op, hit a mandated cap on the net metering program in 2013.

The cap was set by law to 4% of a utility's peak demand. WEC and Vermont Electric Co-op both hit the cap, but Green Mountain Power did not. The companies that hit the cap were no longer allowed to offer the program, which allows customers to install solar panels and connect them to the grid in order to zero-out their electricity bill.

That's exactly what Gardner was able to do--his electric bill used to be close to $3,000, but it's now zero. He makes $2,500 payments each month on his loan to install the panels.

"Not only am I saving the environment so I can feel good every single day...at the end of the conversation when it's paid for...wow. It's free," he said.

The new law raises the cap from 4% to 15%, allowing all Vermont customers to join the program, for now.

"This means for the folks who contacted me back in July...and they were like 'why can't I net meter, my neighbor can?' They can now net meter," said Gabrielle Stebbins, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.

The law actually has two parts, looking toward the future of solar energy.

"The first part is to enable folks to continue doing net metering right now," Stebbins said. "And then the second part is really to re-assess and re-think: is there a better way to do net metering?"

The potential new system that will come out of those talks is set to launch in 2017.
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