From the 28 April 2008 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

Upset with New Yorkís high electrical costs and looking to participate in the green movement, Iíve put some serious thought into using solar energy to power our distribution facility in Wheatfield. Later this year or in early 2009 Iíd like to erect a series of solar panels there. Doing so should make perfect sense, both economically and philosophically.

By weaning my dependency off of the grid, I figured I could save a great deal of money. The electrical rate weíre paying on that commercial property is the highest in the nation (despite the proximity of the Niagara River) and it is destined to become even more expensive due to the dangerous situation of increased demand and stable, if not decreasing, supply that exists in this state.

At the same time Iíd be saving money, Iíd be doing my fair share to save the environment as well. Rather than relying on a grid thatís founded on coal and nuclear generation Iíd be relying on Mother Nature and her clean, renewable bounty.

As wonderful as all that sounds, these dreams of self-reliance and environmental sustainability cannot be realized to their fullest extent under current state law. On the books since 1997, New Yorkís Net Metering Law sets major roadblocks in the way of any business looking to go green. New York is one of only two states which does not allow businesses who produce their own power with windmills or solar panels to be rewarded for what many people call "turning the meter backwards", that is, the act of contributing energy to the grid. Ensuring that this wonít happen, the State caps what a business connected to the grid - which you must be due to the limitations of solar and wind energy - can produce at 25 kilowatts for wind power and 10 kilowatts for solar energy.

These caps are unrealistic. My warehouse uses a relatively minimal amount of power, only what is needed for lighting, heat, and computers. Even so, I canít become even remotely self-reliant: the law allows me to produce what only amounts to about three months of my average usage in a given year. Because of these limitations, most businesses will not invest in sustainable energy. The payback is just not there. The return on investment on solar panels could take five years, maybe more.

Residential power generators fair no better under the current Net Metering Law. Unlike businesses, homeowners can contribute excess power to their utility company. But, that comes with very restrictive caps, too. Net Metering is done on a first-come, first-served basis, and the aggregate of all consumer input cannot exceed 0.1 % of the utility companyís historical demand (1996 levels).

It becomes obvious that these 1997 standards were created to serve special interests. Understand that 0.1% consumer input is a negligible amount and add the fact that businesses cannot participate and you begin to develop a conspiracy theory that the laws were devised as a means to protect the interests of the utility companies who generate most of our power. By giving them a safety net, it does appear that the State was looking out for the likes of National Grid (then Niagara Mohawk) and, most definitely itself: The New York Power Authority has 17 generating facilities across the New York. By limiting what the average person can do and what businesses canít do, the government acted in a self-serving way to maintain its own revenue stream.

Times have changed since 1997 and itís time that this law did, too. Since then, the electricity market has become deregulated in NY, meaning that the existing pseudo-monopolies were destroyed and now the company selling you power doesnít necessarily have to be the same one delivering it. Itís only fitting that green-conscious homeowners and businesses should be able to join this "free for all" to the best of their abilities and sell as much power as they can.

On top of that, green has since become the "in" thing. Itís something people want to do and what our leaders are telling us we should do. If the latter are truly serious about it, they would cease doublespeak and revise the Net Metering Law to promote, not inhibit, green energy.