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Win for wind after five year battle -- FERC rules on net metering

A 65 kW Windmatic turbine at a farm in Iowa that was put up almost five years ago is finally free to generate electricity and deliver as much as two-thirds of its power to the local rural electric co-operative's grid. Gregory Swecker has been in and out of court for five years and finally got a favourable ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on his third trip before the agency.

The ruling, by FERC Chair Pat Wood III and Commissioners William Massey and Nora Brownell, ensures that Midland Power will allow Swecker to connect his turbine to the utility's grid, or FERC will take the electric co-op to court. The ruling also settles any misperception by a co-operative utility in the US that they may be exempt from the requirements of the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) for net metering, where a single conventional meter is used to measure electricity use at the end of the month, net of own generation. PURPA is a 25-year-old law to encourage electricity production from small independent power producers or "qualifying facilities," such as wind turbines. Iowa law under the state's Alternate Energy Production Statute also requires utilities to provide net metering services.

ruling

In two separate decisions, FERC rules that even unregulated public utilities, such as Midland Power must provide net metering and FERC also told Midland that it must get on with connecting Swecker's 65 kW turbine to its grid.

The nightmare for Swecker began when he bought and installed the turbine in 1998 with the idea of using the electricity to power his hog farm and to sell the remaining power to Midland. According to Swecker, Midland initially refused to offer a fair price for the power, offering about $0.02/kWh instead of the $0.05/kWh that Swecker believes is closer to the cost Midland avoids if it had to provide the power.

Impermissable charges

Midland also tried to charge an extra $50 service fee and $50 for meter reading each month, as well as $16/kW in demand charges. While an Iowa judge in 2000 ruled these charges impermissible, she allowed the co-op to charge Swecker $3212 for metering equipment (Windpower Monthly, June 2000).

Midland General Manager Roger Wieck says the co-op does not oppose wind, but it does oppose subsidising wind installations. "The member must meet the cost requirements of our tariff," he says. "Our responsibility is the best interests of all our customers."

In his second trip to FERC, Swecker withdrew his application and took the complaint back to a state court because Midland complained that was where the decision should be made, according to the FERC. When in the state court, however, Midland argued that PURPA is a federal issue and that the state court did not have jurisdiction.

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