In December 2017, the Ashland City Council unanimously adopted changes to update the City’s net metering resolution, including a new section which enables a Virtual Net Metering (VNM) policy. In the City of Ashland, VNM is a policy which enables energy produced at one electric meter, to be credited to another meter within the Ashland’s municipal electric utility. The policy creates new options for construction of community solar systems and offsite solar generation.
How does it work?
VNM systems are privately owned and are meant to be developed in much the same way as conventional solar. The primary difference is that City of Ashland facilitates the billing mechanism which transfers energy credits from the generator to the recipient. The City of Ashland does not define the relationship between the project developer/owner, project site owner, and energy credit recipient. VNM participants may pursue a variety of ownership models, including direct ownership, group ownership, long term power contracts, and subscription models, to name a few possibilities. The owner of the system is responsible for finding the installation site.
What’s the benefit of off-site solar?
Ashland has a quality solar resource, but rugged terrain and a mature urban tree canopy mean that only about 50% of buildings are well suited to solar energy systems. VNM allows solar systems to be installed anywhere within the City’s electric grid, which enables systems to be sized and sited for optimal performance and improved investment. As an added benefit, off-site solar requires no changes to the building where the energy is used, which means no retrofit costs and no visual changes due to panels.
Where is Virtual Net Metering being used?
In one case, Southern Oregon University's Recreation Storage Building was designed for solar (with a south-facing roof and optimal tilt). Its 24 kW solar system is perfectly situated, but the building it is on consumes very little energy. The university is using virtual net metering to transfer the solar production from the storage building to the Facilities Administration building, which has a need for that energy.
Other uses of VNM include:
An owner of several local businesses who used VNM to build a centralized solar system to serve all of their accounts.
A family-owned VNM system with the ability of crediting energy to multiple family electric accounts.
Who else can use Virtual Net Metering?
The VNM policy creates new options to overcome some well known barriers to solar. For example, renters can invest in their own renewable energy system and reap the benefits without needing the building owner’s permission and there’s no need to make any physical changes to the building. Community solar (and other joint-ownership) projects are more feasible and less costly, now that there is an established mechanism to share the energy produced. Owners of older buildings with high retrofit costs or who want to maintain a certain look and feel can install solar without modifying their building. Lenders and project owners can develop solar in a protected, off-site environment, which helps to protect the asset and may facilitate transfer of ownership (for example, a share in a jointly owned system could be easily transferred to someone else).
Nuts and bolts
Solar incentives are unchanged; the City of Ashland offers $0.50/Watt up to $7,500 for qualifying systems. State and Federal incentives are also available.
Each “Generator-Account” must fill out an allocation table (updated once per year) describing how and where the energy will be distributed (on a percent basis).
Each “Benefitting Account” receives a kWh credit for each kWh produced by the Generator-Account on their behalf .
This program is available only within the Ashland Municipal Electric Utility.
Ashland has more than 400 net metered solar electric systems in a town of approximately 10,300 households (the 2017 population was 20,700).
Why pursue this policy?
The City of Ashland has supported progressive solar policies since 1981, when it passed one of the first city-wide solar rights, or access, protection ordinances in the United States. Subsequent City solar programs included community solar projects Solar Pioneer I & II, alongside various evolutions of net metering policies.
Ashland’s current solar incentives, combined with the Federal tax credits, have created a thriving market for residential and commercial solar. While the incentives and supportive citizenry do a lot for the solar marketplace, there are still significant barriers for some demographics. The Virtual Net Metering policy is an attempt to reduce barriers for all citizens, but it is an especially enabling for community solar projects, those who have a poor solar resource, and for those who rent.
Current efforts to support solar play a key role in the Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan, which aims to reduce Ashland’s contribution to global carbon pollution and prepare the city for climate change impacts. Ashland’s Climate Vision for 2050 is to be a resilient community that has zero net greenhouse gas emissions, embraces equity, protects healthy ecosystems, and creates opportunities for future generations.