EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - It's now easier for more small power generators in the state to get paid for any excess electricity they produce by sending that power back onto the electric grid, according to a new law signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday.
The "net metering" law Shumlin signed next to a solar array owned by an East Montpelier dairy farmer increases the amount of power small sources of electricity, such as solar panels on a home roof or in a yard, can send to the electric grid from 4 percent of a utility's peak load to 15 percent.
The new law also includes lowering the net metering credit on larger projects, expands a fast-track solar project permitting process and creates a framework to redesign the law for 2017 and beyond when federal tax credits may expire.
Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.
"Our success exceeded our wildest dreams," Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state's electric grid.
Vermont's increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation's per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.
In addition to the environmental benefits of locally produced power, the move to renewable energy has helped defer the need for $400 million in electricity transmission projects, saving the state's electric ratepayers $16 million, the governor said.
In parts of the country, the net metering debate has proved contentious. Deputy Public Service Commissioner Darren Springer said he recently attended a utility conference where one session referred to the "net metering wars."
But in Vermont, the utilities, solar developers and others worked together to craft the law that Shumlin signed Tuesday.
"We have over 3,600 projects in Vermont that are part of the net metering program," Spring said. "It's the part of our (energy) portfolio that everyday Vermonters can touch and feel and install on their properties. It's in our communities, our homes, our businesses, our farms."
The governor signed the bill on the back of organic dairy farmer Seth Gardner because no one brought a podium on which to sign the document in the muddy lot next to Gardner's solar panels.
Gardner said the net metering for his project made it possible to install the solar panels that usually produce enough electricity every month for his farm.
"It makes clean power, I've reduced my carbon footprint, I'm proud to do it, Vermont's a great place and I love net metering," Gardner said.