BC Hydro Net Metering Program Still Pays For Power!

There has been a lot of misinformation floating around since BC Hydro announced changes to the BC Hydro Net Metering Program last spring. I’ve been reading articles and comments that the program has been killed. This is NOT the case. The program is alive & well, and accepting applications in record numbers.

Here is a summary of what change was made, what it means for people putting solar on their homes, and how you can use the program to reduce, or even eliminate your electrical energy bills.

The Change

BC Hydro applied to the BC Utilities Commission for the right to be able to restrict new applicants to the program to a ‘Net Zero’ level of energy generation. This means is that if you consume 10,000 KWh of energy annually, they only want you to be able to generate 10,000 KWh (+/-).

For most residential situations, there is no change to the program and its benefits. Most homes don’t have enough roof space to generate more power than they consume anyway.

This change also does not affect existing Net Metering accounts.

A Practical Look At BC Hydro Net Metering

Does Hydro care if you over-produce?
No, as long as it is within reason. Solar is variable by nature, and there are variations in lifestyles.
Let’s say you get approved for a 10 KW solar system to offset your 10,000 KWh of typical annual energy consumption. But, because of an unusually sunny summer, you produce 12,000 KWh in a year. During the same year, one of your kids moves out, you replace 20 light bulbs with LEDs, and installed a new high-efficiency hot water tank. The result is that your annual consumption falls to 9,000 KWh. Your production is in a net surplus position for the year, and Hydro pays you out at 9.99 cents per KWh (or approx $300).

Hydro is not going to sweat a payment of $300.┬áMaybe you purchase an electric car the next year and your annual consumption rises to 14,000 KWh. It all falls within a reasonable range, and this is what the Net Metering system was intended to do: Offset a home’s energy consumption.

What the BC Hydro Net Metering program wasn’t supposed to become is some back-door way to get an independent power producer contract. Hydro wants to put an end to approving people that want to install 100KW arrays on their acreages in the hopes of getting thousands of dollars back each year.

So, if they only want you to generate enough to offset what you consume, how do they approve applications?

When you apply to the program, they ask you for your meter number & account number. They also want to know how large a solar PV system you would like to install, and what inverters will be talking to the grid & sharing power. When they have this information, they look into your past energy consumption, and quickly determine if the solar PV system you are proposing will produce approximately the energy you are consuming.

Most residential systems up to 10KW should pass this evaluation and get their approval with ease. Most BC homes consume between 10,000 & 15,000 KWh per year, and it is usually not possible to find enough roof space on a typical house to offset 100% of this total.

Credits Still Carried Forward

During the summer months, when the sun is strong, your solar system will usually generate more than you consume. Any surplus is carried forward to the next billing period & put against your consumption. This carry-forward continues from billing period to billing period. In the winter months, when the heat & lights are on for more hours each day, those credits tend to get used-up. At the end of your Net Metering Agreement year, if there are any credits remaining, you get paid out at the program’s prescribed 9.99 cents/KWh.

An illustration from my own system’s performance…
This past summer of 2018, our 13 modules (3.77 KW system) created a 400KWh surplus during our July/August billing period, despite our hazy, wildfire skies. That means our little solar array produced 400KWh more energy than we consumed in the house. All I had to pay on that bill was the connection charge and a few riders, totalling $13.46. Not bad!
The 400KWh credit was carried over into the next billing period.

A less-than-sunny September thus far has meant that our consumption has exceeded our production by 70KWh with a few weeks to go in this current 2-month billing period. Still not too bad, considering that this translates to approx $7. But as long as we stay under 400KWh of net consumption, our BC Hydro bill for this next period will zero-out and will again be in the $13 range. Hopefully with a few credits to carry forward into November!

I should point out that our 13 modules do not have the ideal exposure. Our roof pitch is 23-degrees (5/12 pitch), and it faces 220-degrees South-West with various tall Fir & Cedar trees surrounding it. Ideal for my latitude would be be a summer angle of approx 35-degrees (9/12 pitch), at 180-degrees due South, with no trees. But, paradise is what it is!

How To Maximize Your Net Metering Participation

Step 1 : Apply Now
If you think you want to do this, get your application in to Hydro for approval. It’s free & only 1 page long.
I can help with the process of determining your array size, and preliminary design (ie what inverters you will have talking to the utility). We can go with a simple, starter system, or go big to maximize your production to meet your consumption.

You can then sit on this approval for months while considering the finer details of adding solar to your home. BC Hydro accepts changes to your system design essentially as new applications, but it is a simple process with no cost.

The other reason to apply now, is that you will want to do it before you do all those energy efficiency upgrades you’ve been planning. You might as well get your Net Metering system approval for the level of consumption you currently have instead of at a lower level. However, if you are buying an electric car, perhaps wait a year so that your consumption pattern reflects the increase in demand due to the car.

Step 2 : Install Your Solar System Anytime, But Commission It In March
This may sound like strange advice, but think about the carry-forward of credits, and the anniversary date that BC Hydro assigns to you when you get approval to turn the system ‘on’.
Timing is everything.
Your best production months are May-September. Which means that if you have a system size of 4KW or more, you are likely to have a credit balance on your account between the months of June-September. If your Net Metering agreement anniversary date is in this range, Hydro will pay out your credit balance at 9.99 cents/KWh.
Wouldn’t you rather put those credits against future consumption? Especially if that consumption is at the Tier-2 level of 13 cents/KWh during winter months? Sounds like a better deal to me, especially when that 9.99 cent rate is not going to increase, but the 13 cent rate certainly does every spring!

Even a system installed in September that sits idle through the winter until early March, will gain more by having the March anniversary date over the years that follow, than it gives up in production credits through those initial 5 months of winter.

Some Additional Reading…

BC Hydro’s Net Metering Info Page
BC Hydro’s Net Metering Program Changes
CBC Article
Vancouver Sun Article

Questions or Comments?

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments regarding the BC Hydro program.
If you’d like to find out what’s possible for your home, request your Solar Power Home Assessment today.

  • Graham Morfitt, BSc (Physics)
    Owner, Modern Outpost

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