By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) has announced the start of renewable energy grid tie-ins for residential customers, although per island limits are being imposed on the total amount that can be supplied.
BPL, BEC’s operating subsidiary, yesterday confirmed it had completed the regulatory framework for its Small Scale Renewable Generation (SSRG) programme in partnership with the Government and Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA).
Homeowners with solar and wind power systems will now be able to apply to BPL for interconnection with the latter’s grid, the utility monopoly saying the initiative will give customers “greater autonomy in controlling individual energy costs as well as increasing energy availability in the country”
BPL added that it represented the “first phase” in its plan to incorporate renewables in its generation mix.
“This is an important milestone for the company, as it actively supports our core objectives of providing reliable energy at affordable rates, improving customer experiences and making greater use of renewables,” said BPL’s chief executive, Pamela Hill.
“Customers can provide a portion of their own energy while also increasing energy availability on our network. We see this as a win-win for all.”
BPL appears to have launched its SSRG programme before URCA issued a final ‘Statement of Results’ on the public consultation undertaken over the initiative.
Stephen Bereaux, URCA’s acting chief executive, was yesterday said to be off-island and unavailable for comment, but BPL’s draft interconnection agreement and application form appear to mirror almost exactly the regulator’s ‘preliminary determination’.
For instance, BPL will pay renewable energy suppliers using a ‘net billing’ method as opposed to ‘net metering’, using meters capable of monitoring energy flows in both directions.
BPL will credit homeowners for energy supplied to the grid in excess of their own use based on “based on BPL’s applicable fuel charge prevailing during the month the energy is supplied”.
If the homeowner supplies more energy to BPL than they consume, a credit will be applied to their account and carried forward into the next month. Credits will roll forward until October of each year, when they will be reset to zero.
This is all in line with URCA’s original determination, which has allowed BPL to initially “undervalue” the price it pays to purchase renewable energy generated by its residential customers.
The ‘net billing’ arrangement was also proposed by BPL, which will see homeowners sell excess renewable energy at a price that is lower than the utility’s retail tariff rates.
While agreeing that net billing was “preferable” to the other option, net metering, URCA said in December 2016 that standard practice is for energy utilities to base the price they pay for renewable energy on their ‘avoided cost of generation’.
This represents the savings produced from utilities having to generate less energy themselves from their own plant, but URCA’s document confirmed BPL is only willing to pay consumers a price equal to its prevailing fuel charge.
The regulator said the fuel charge component of BPL bills would not represent all its ‘avoided cost of generation’, and did not account for other benefits - such as reduced losses from its transmission and distribution(T&D) system.
As a result, URCA acknowledged that BPL’s proposed compensation to homeowners actually “undervalued” the excess energy it was buying.
Yet the regulator, in its preliminary decision on URCA’s offer, said it was minded to allow this as a “temporary measure”, in a bid to both kick-start renewable energy development in the Bahamas and avoid “the significant costs” that will be incurred in calculating BPL’s ‘avoided cost of generation’.
Meanwhile, BPL is imposing limits on how much energy can be supplied by homeowners with renewable systems to its grid. For New Providence, no system can supply more than 5 kW (kilowatts) to the grid.
No system can “supply greater than BPL’s estimate of the customer’s average peak demand or 50 kW, whichever is the lesser, to the grid unless otherwise approved by BPL”.
And renewable grid tie-ins will be offered on a “first come first serve” basis by BPL, which is capping total installed SSRG capacity on New Providence at “a maximum total of 10,000 kW”.
Similar limits, with lower caps, are also being applied to all other islands on which BPL operates.
The utility’s statement added that customers on New Providence and the Family Islands can apply for grid tie-in “effective immediately”, and can access the interconnection agreement on BPL’s website; www.bplco.com.
“BPL does remind its customers that the programme is available on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, and there are technical specifications and limits on the amount of energy BPL will import to its grid,” BPL said.
“BPL also reminds its customers that in compliance with its regulatory mandate, it reserves the right to deny grid integration of any system it evaluates as non-compliant, unsafe or unfit for purpose.”
BPL added that it was “targeting commercial SSRG in the near future, quickly followed by the implementation and integration of utility-scale renewable generation at several BPL sites.”.