I’ve been excited to write a first post in the ‘Checking in on the Federal Register’ article series, but have been waiting for the right Notice to be posted in the Federal Register. Today is finally that day, as the Department of Energy (DOE) published a Notice of request for information (RFI) in the September 15, 2017 issue of the Federal Register (82 FR 43345). This Notice is a rather brief one, so I would encourage you to read it yourself, in addition to reading this post where I’ll summarize the important details and pre-emptively answer any questions you may have.
What is an RFI?
If you’ve already read my Policy Rulemaking Process for Dummies article, you might be confused—RFIs don’t appear anywhere in that summary of the typical rulemaking process. However, an RFI falls into the category of situations where a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) is not the first Federal Register notice. An RFI is issued, such as in this case, when a topic is particularly complex or contentious, and so the agency solicits public feedback earlier in the process to ensure it has all the best and most up-to-date data and information available before beginning its analysis.
In this instance, DOE indicates they are preparing a cost/benefit study on net metering as a part of the Grid Modernization Initiative. DOE is likely seeking out all possible resources and data sets from stakeholders because net metering is a very contentious issue and it is crucial to have all possible information before digging into the study.
Background of Net Metering
According to DOE, net metering, or net energy metering (NEM), is the “the practice of using a single meter to measure consumption and generation of electricity by a small generation facility (such as a house with a wind or solar photovoltaic system). The net energy produced or consumed is purchased from or sold to the power provider, respectively.” Thus, when these customers who generate their own electricity have generated more power than they are using, they are able to sell back their excess electricity to the utility who controls the transmission and distribution system to which they are connected.
The debate on net metering often pits companies and customers installing rooftop solar panels against utilities. The main crux of the debate surrounds rate design and the issue of whether customers whose excess solar power gets sold back into the larger utility grid system should be credited at the retail rate of electricity or if that unfairly results in these solar customers not paying their fair share of the grid upkeep costs.
These disputes have been commonly going to courts in states with frequent residential solar power installations. For a quick rundown of where each state stood on laws regarding net metering (as of late 2016), see this summary by the National Conference of State Legislatures. For a summary of the most contentious net metering legal battles going on in 2017, see this write up by Utility Dive. However since this is such a common and frequent debate across many different states, the best way to see the latest news is a quick Google search—the most recent development coming from just approved rules and regulations for net metering in Nevada.
What is being requested
In short, this RFI is requesting that stakeholders submit any relevant data, studies, or information they have in regards to the costs and benefits of net metering. DOE specifically requests information from the perspectives of the utilities’ business interests, the rate-paying consumers, and those tasked with addressing the technical and operational challenges of net metering.
As such, this RFI casts a rather wide net as to who prospective stakeholders would be—not only will the expected utilities and energy advocates likely submit comments, but the door is open for any private citizen or group of citizens to express their thoughts and concerns. As mentioned in the Policy Rulemaking Process for Dummies article, comment periods such as this one represent the best opportunities for you, either as a private citizen or a member of an organization, to directly impact potential regulations that could have real impacts on your life.
While there are numerous public studies available that DOE can, and certainly already has, referenced for their information gathering process, the key to this comment request is that they would like those with deep knowledge and experience with the topic to provide comment and context on those existing studies (specifically citing studies done since the beginning of 2012). DOE is hoping to hear if stakeholders find there to be any flaws in commonly cited studies on the topic, information that is not discussed in those studies, or data/information that stakeholders may have internally that have not yet been made public. In essence, this RFI from DOE is indicating they are studying the costs and benefits of net metering, and if you have any information you think is important to be included in that study then now is the time to raise your hand. The analysis generated from the information in this RFI will ultimately be presented to Congress.
Note: I have in the works a post on how to submit the most effective public comments, so if there appears to be interest on this post regarding the net metering RFI then I’ll make sure to move up publication of that subsequent post to be helpful for commenting on this Notice in advance of the comment submission deadline.
Summary of RFI details
- DOE published RFI asking for comments on the costs and benefits of net energy metering (82 FR 43345).
- Specific topics DOE is interested in receiving comments on include:
- Motivations and policy context of cost-benefit analyses of net metering;
- Types of costs and benefits that should be considered for net metering;
- Methodology issues typically encountered in net metering studies;
- Context for what drives differing costs or benefits in different net metering studies; and
- Any emerging issues that should be considered in future net metering studies that may not have been relevant to studies in the past.
- Comments are to be submitted by October 30, 2017.
- Further information is available at the Notice’s online docket, and questions can be directed to Kate Marks at the DOE Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis.
- Feel free to contact me, through the Contact page or commenting below, if you have any questions you think I could answer as well.
Updated on October 10, 2017
About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.