We talk frequently here at GRELJ about the disconnect between green building policy and the practical aspects of improving building performance. An interesting wrinkle on this intersection is currently playing out in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, where developer Bruce Becker is fighting the state’s Department of Public Utility Control (“DPUC”) over its recent decision to deny his application for net metering of his new 360 State Street development. The residential project is a 32-story, 500-unit apartment complex with retail space and parking for 500 vehicles which is targeting a LEED Platinum rating from USGBC.
According to the Hartford Courant, Becker hoped to power the building – at least in part – with a 400 kilowatt fuel cell, for which he expected to receive a $900,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (which would cover about 50 percent of the fuel cell’s total cost). In order to finance the rest of the purchase price, Becker anticipated that he could use net metering technology (selling excess capacity from the fuel cell back to the local utility) to cover the balance, while submetering individual residents. However, under existing Connecticut law, residential net metering is only allowed in certain circumstances (at campgrounds and marinas), and so DPUC rejected Becker’s application early last year (a copy of his petition and DPUC’s decision is available here).
But, Connecticut law does allow electrical cooperatives, which “may be organized . . . for the purpose of generating electric energy by means of . . . renewable energy resources.” With the input of the state’s Clean Energy Fund, Becker formed a co-op called the Elm Electrical Cooperative, Inc., and approached United Illuminating (the local utility) about organizing a net metering arrangement. Absent DPUC’s consent, the utility refused. Becker proceeded to file another petition that requested, among other relief, that UI be ordered to power the co-op, that the co-op be eligible for energy conservation and incentive programs, and that the co-op be able to implement Becker’s proposed net metering program. Earlier this month, DPUC rejected Becker’s petition (the written report on which the decision was based does not appear available on DPUC’s website).
In its article, the Courant makes several points which I think are worth repeating here at GRELJ for your consideration. First, according to the Courant, DPUC suggested both in its report and oral hearing that although Becker’s proposed solutions are novel, the agency itself needs input from the legislature on how it should respond. Connecticut is behind other jurisdictions (including New York) in terms of net metering legislation; I think this is a good example of technology bumping up against an antiquated regulatory regime. Legislation needs to enable – and not restrict – technologies that can improve building performance. A thought that follows is how quickly many state and municipal governments have acted to incorporate third-party building rating systems into legislation without fully considering (1) the corresponding legal implications; or (2) whether those rating systems actually result in higher performing buildings. We’ll be keeping an eye on 360 State Street’s plight and follow up if anything else of import transpires.
On a New York side note, last August Governor Paterson signed a series of bills to allow commercial net metering installations across New York State. Previously, only residential users were allowed to generate their own electricity from renewable sources and sell it back into the grid. Senate Bill 7171 now allows net metering for commercial systems up to 2 megawatts in capacity. It also increased the maximum system size for residential installations from 10 to 25 kilowatts. In addition, for building owners that install solar power systems, Senate Bill 8145 (which applies only to New York City) allows for a four-year real property tax abatement of up to $62,500.00 per year. As we noted recently over at gbNYC, the first such commercial installation in New York City was recently commissioned at 925 Bergen Street in Brooklyn by solar power installer Solar Energy Systems (SES) for Big Sue LLC, a general contracting and consulting firm that specializes in green design-build projects, which owns and operates the property. The installation is a 40 kilowatt solar array and, according to SES, is the largest commercial net-metered photovoltaic system in the entire country.