BC Hydro customers producing solar energy could lose payout for excess power

BC Hydro announced in April it will be changing eligibility requirements for its net metering program to restrict applicants from exceeding their personal electricity needs.

Customers producing more energy than they consume receive about 10 cents per unused kilowatt hour

Solar panels are seen here installed on a house in Europe. BC Hydro is proposing to end the program that pays its customers for their surplus solar power. That isn't sitting well with one man who installed over 100 panels on his property. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

A Vancouver Island resident has discovered that when it comes to solar energy, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

Steve Gilbert spent around $60,000 to install 148 solar panels on his property in Metchosin.

His system has produced enough energy to send surplus power back into the grid, which gets used by other customers — but BC Hydro is now proposing to end the program that pays its customers for their surplus solar power.

Hydro announced in April that it will be changing eligibility requirements for its net metering program to restrict applicants from exceeding their personal electricity needs.

"What [BC Hydro's] trying to get away from is the people that have the space and the capacity to actually put in a system that's way beyond what they would use and [homeowners] would potentially make a profit off of that," Gilbert told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

Under the current program, those who produce more energy than they use receive 9.99 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity.

BC Hydro says nearly 1,400 customers are part of a program where excess power generated privately is sold back to the utility.

"I've done many tours of my setup and I always tell people, until solar becomes really inexpensive, there isn't an incentive to overproduce… at 9.99 cents, it really isn't worth it," he said.

Ontario's microFIT program has a much higher return even though it has been consistently lowered over the years. 

MicroFIT pays overproducers around 20 cents per kilowatt hour, reduced from 80 cents when the program started in 2009.

While Gilbert hasn't received cash for his excess energy, he said he uses the credits to get through the winter.

"I think what I'd like to encourage people to do is to actually just get on board and do what they can on their property," he said.

"You can't justify a Site C Dam if all the power needs are all of a sudden swallowed up by solar installations."

Hydro: some customers abusing program

The manager of BC Hydro's net metering program says the move is about bringing the system back to its original purpose: offset power loads for the utility and reducing bills for customers.

Joanne McKenna says there are concerns about a few customers abusing the program.

T’Sou-ke Nation is a B.C. First Nation that sells solar power to BC Hydro. (Shannon Halliday)

"It was never meant to be a revenue-generating stream and what we're seeing is some customers are oversizing their generation 50 times more than they need," she told All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

"They're grossly oversetting their consumption and they're getting paid back sometimes in the area of $60,000 per year."

She says since starting with 400 participating customers in 2014, the program has grown to nearly 1,400.

Of those, 250 receive a share of $280,000 in surplus payments — but $220,000 of that amount goes to only six participants.

"We're just concerned with those significantly oversized generators," she said.

McKenna says, as an interim step, new customers joining the program will be asked to provide their annual power load and then the utility will match their generation to that load.

She says a comprehensive review will be filed with the B.C. Utility Commission later in 2018. Input from the public and industry will be solicited.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Island and All Points West