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Judge rules partial net metering win -- Unreasonable and discriminatory

Greg Swecker, an Iowa farmer trying to generate his own power from the wind, has been partly vindicated in his dispute with his rural electric co-op, Midland Power (Windpower Monthly, February 2000). Swecker had complained to the Iowa Utility Board (IUB) that Midland Power was blocking him from producing power with a 65 kW Windmatic turbine that he installed last year but was unable to hook up to the grid.

In her ruling, IUB Administrative Law Judge Amy Christiansen says that special rates charged to self-generating customers by Midland Power Co-op. are "unreasonable and discriminatory" and are thus a violation of Iowa law. She has ordered the utility to stop using the rate, which included an extra $50 service fee and $50 for meter reading each month, as well as $16 per kW in demand charges.

Her ruling is only a partial victory for Swecker, however. As well as complaining about the rates, he had also argued that the interconnection requirements were unfair. The co-op wanted to charge Swecker an extra $3212 for special metering equipment, capable of measuring flow in both directions, peak demand and power quality.

Christiansen rules that because Midland is not required to allow net metering -- where a single conventional meter is used to measure net demand at the end of the month -- the use of special meters is allowable, albeit she supports a simpler meter than Midland required. Furthermore, since Midland Power is a publicly owned utility, the IUB has no jurisdiction to set rates for the co-op or to require them to use net metering. Christiansen's ruling was limited to determining which of Midland's rates were applicable to self-generators, and which interconnection requirements were fair. Swecker is not completely happy with the ruling. "We're still fighting it," he says. Net metering is a service, adds Swecker, not a rate, and the IUB does have jurisdiction over services.

He also argues that Midland is not paying him a fair rate for the power generated which is excess to his needs. Federal rules require utilities to pay to "qualifying facilities," like wind turbines, the "avoided cost" of having to buy the power elsewhere. The co-op pays only $0.02/kWh for surplus power, while Swecker says the cost avoided by Midland is closer to $0.05/kWh. He also says Midland should pay him for the power capacity the turbine supplies to the system. "Why should we not be allowed to net meter just because we're a co-op member?" he asks. "It's prejudiced."

Although the co-op is now ready to hook up his turbine, Swecker is insisting it pay for damages caused by the delay. Both parties are appealing parts of the judge's decision.

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