Opinion: Net metering has paid major divends for Vermont
Ninety-Six percent of the electricity consumed annually by Snake Mountain Boatworks LLC (SMB) and our home in Weybridge (23,000 kWh +/-) is generated by the solar and wind generating infrastructure we installed in 2010.
Absent net metering, the excess electricity we generate above our needs eight months annually would simply be lost to the grid. During the other four months, generating shortfalls relative to SMB’s prodigious appetite for electricity would be paid for by raising the prices clients pay and buying electricity — possibly generated by fracked petroleum products — from the grid.
Meeting David Blittersdorf in the mid-1970s by pure chance launched us down this path. He visited our place and immediately was drawn to a high promontory out in our fields, “Do you realize that, sitting here at the north end of this long valley, is a near perfect wind turbine site?” Nope.
We would be pioneers, or so we thought. Never mind net metering, CVPS opposed the very concept of installing a wind turbine that would feed surplus power back on the lines. Finally we won the right to install the turbine, but at the cost of simply giving CVPS any surplus we generated. CVPS insisted to the very end that gear trains could not run backwards. But it was really all moot since that little turbine almost never generated any surplus power.
Fast forward to the 21st Century when net metering gained momentum in Vermont and was finally approved.
Having had all the “fun” we wanted during our 10 years with the little Enertec turbine, we remained on the sidelines until 2009 when it became patently clear that the wooden boat preservation business I was contemplating launching required a major investment into an infrastructure of very large woodworking machines, each of which was powered by an equally large electric motor. Meeting lighting and air filtration and pneumatic systems requirements could not be ignored. In truth, my estimates of the shop’s electricity appetite, valued at $.15/kWh, were staggering. Funding my monthly electricity costs loomed over the startup’s ability to ever become even cash flow positive, never mind profitable.
Enter David Blittersdorf, this time with a suggestion that I run the numbers once again, but this time factor in net metering and three All Earth Renewables Solar Trackers 12 kW capacity.
Doing so made the numbers work and justified purchasing the three trackers. Because of net metering, surplus power generated and banked during the “light months” would be applied to our consumption during the “dark months.” Bottom line, when annualized, our largest monthly operating cost dropped to near zero. With the trackers on their way, SMB launched and has prospered.
And there was a bonus I had neglected. When the electricity we generate is valued at $.15/kWh, we are earning 5.2 percent annually on our investment in renewable energy generation. Compare that return with what you can expect from stocks, bonds and CDs!
Proponents of expanding net metering and renewable power generation say it not only reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, it also contributes to job and income growth. We are but one example, but SMB’s emergence created two full-time jobs that pay above living wage rates. SMB is a tiny enterprise. Just imagine how many jobs could result from not only continuing, but growing the net metering program as medium and large enterprises get the message and do what we did, albeit on a very much larger scale!
Our experience, like that of our fellow early adopters in Vermont, argues for continuing, and even growing net metering if we are serious about increasing renewable energy generation’s share of the power consumed in Vermont. Doing so will propel business opportunities, jobs and our economy in ways that combat, rather than contribute to, climate change.
Michael P. Claudon
Founder and CEO, Snake Mountain Boatworks LLC
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