Electric Utilities - Environmental Stewards or Not?

The state of Massachusetts claims to be a leader in solar PV deployment and energy efficiency, and utilities claim to be involved and supportive. They collect money every single month from yours and my (residential and commercial) electrical bills, and then spend it on their ‘Ngrid incentive programs’ doesn’t seem very supportive to me. Ngrid is a multi-national private for profit company – where is their contribution? If you look carefully at your residential or commercial electric bill – you will see multiple line items or contributions you are making to the utility’s incentive programs. I thought National Grid would be funding what are known as Ngrid incentives. What I have been experiencing is more the opposite – absolute taking.

We own a 140 year old commercial building in Amesbury. It is a relatively large building at 50,000 square feet and quite energy inefficient when we purchased. We, as owners, are committed to getting the building as close to net zero energy consumption as possible. We have upgraded the entire building lights to LED lighting inside and out, and have installed new programmable thermostats throughout the building, we have added 10 fast charging EV stations and we have gotten kind of stuck there. We did these upgrades through a utility 3rd party – EnergySource that has all the pleasure of deciphering utility incentive programs and dealing directly with Ngrid, thank god. It is not because of our intentions, nor available technologies, but because of continued obstacles spelled… Ngrid. We have been trying to find other efficiency upgrades through EnergySource ever since.

2016 - Massachusetts Gov. Baker announced a program focused on energy and commercial buildings because they are large energy users and their roofs are large and represent effective and efficient solar PV deployment locations. CI Works attempted to participate in the program and it never happened for two reasons – the program is not effectively run or based on accountable targets and results for deployment like most state programs. Second, our experience was the uncertainty of various fees from different entities – municipal, state agencies, and the largest and most numbing fees of all – from the electric utility – 2 of them. We faced an uncertain fee for the utility to evaluate their own electric grid – arbitrary with no schedules or formulas, rather whatever they decided to charge, then another fee to connect our solar array to their grid. Again no formula, just pure speculative fees on their part to identify where they felt was best for us to connect and how much they wanted to charge. We are located in an industrial park with high tension power lines on all sides, but Ngrid could select a connection point miles away???? The fees and timeframe uncertainties made financing for the array impossible and the state program approach was caput.

2021 – there have been thousands of solar arrays deployed in Mass successfully, so we again pursued deploying solar through ownership, bank financing, and again the efficiency of a large commercial rooftop that would support a solar array. Our initial approach was to produce the greatest amount of clean energy from our roof as possible and sell any excess power to the Ngrid. Previously, a method known as net metering was used to buy / sell any excess power beyond the load of the building at the same rate in both directions. That no longer exists. State of Mass fixed that and Ngrid sells any power required to the building owner at the going rate and purchases any excess from the building at a significantly lower wholesale rate and has been approved by the state of Mass. Not only does it not increase the amount of renewable energy generated in Mass that the state claims as a goal, it has completely upset financing models and effectively reduced the solar power generation from these rooftop commercial projects.

2022 – Working with solar developer NRG Tree, it was determined that the best approach for financing would be to match the generation from the roof to the load of the building and reduce the generation from the roof to that level. I don’t understand how reducing helps Mass achieve their goal of increased generation. Still, the first required fee we faced was another arbitrary fee charged by Ngrid to evaluate their own grid as to whether the power generated from our roof will be allowed on their grid. This, by the way, is 25% of the same building load that has powered the building for the last 50 years through the same wires. Also, the neighborhood electric poles and cabling were upgraded in the last 2 years as part or the Elm St. upgrade project. I guess NGrid doesn’t have a clue what they did for work on the lines over the last 2 years, or there is carte blanche to proceed as they want. That is under Mass Dept of Public Utilities oversight? We approached Ngrid to find out whether if we reduced the array size further, could it interface with the grid without these arbitrary fees? Answer – No – Fees first regardless of array size. It is a $9,500+ fee for an ‘evaluation of some sort’ without any schedule or scale….just what they want to charge. The fee was split between us the developer – NRG Tree. The developer has given up project profitability for public good, we have paid upfront fees, and Ngrid has done what?, while overseen by the state? We and NRG have gifted them money and they could still tank the project financing by their connection point and another fee. Only a monopoly enabled by the state of Mass could do this.

It continued last week. EnergySource has recommended we explore another incentive program - swapping out the existing dual fuel (that means electricity and natural gas) HVAC units to more efficient and electricity powered only heat pumps or splits. This would be consistent with the state’s approach of eliminating natural gas as a fuel whenever possible. EnergySource tells us there is an incentive offered by the utility for these replacement units, including on bill financing. This would again be funded by YOUR electric bill contribution. Problem is – there is nothing written down about this program and by the way, heat pumps have been around for decades. That is feet dragging. Then, Ngrid decides that they won’t be offering on bill financing to customers that are existing National Grid natural gas customers. How is that for a monopoly move, again with state of Mass oversight? The profiteers win over the environmentalists again at National Grid and the state of Massachusetts.

In a more perfect environment focused world, a utility trying to reduce carbon footprint should be enabling us to increase the size of our array as we add more EV charging or additional heat pumps to increase our electricity generation commensurate with the increased building electricity load resulting from environmental progress. Can anyone imagine what that train wreck might look like as to complexity of progress?

Please contact your elected officials as we have and ask that they explain this behavior because it is your money being contributed.

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