Virtual net METERING. Solar power from your neighbor's roof?

Solar brokered VIRTUAL net metering coming soon!

Hi everyone,  Jennifer Coleman here with Sun Source Solar Brokers; helping consumers make informed decisions about solar purchases with the help of a solar brokering agent.

Here’s what’s new

By the time 2014 rolled around New Hampshire had allowed its residents to gain credit for their utility bills from solar energy, and this was without even having a solar panel on their roof.  How is this possible?

Well, a change in New Hampshire’s laws on allowed for people who live or rent in apartments and business owners to partake in net metering, a process which allows you to purchase solar panels which are part of a larger arrangement or located at a different place, and subsequently credit for the energy that these panels generate. This is called virtual net metering, also known as community-owned solar, and those who partake in it will receive a discount on their bill if the net energy they consume is less than the energy their panels produce.

There are 11 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, in addition to the District of Columbia, that have a virtual net metering policy of some kind. Other places have policies with limited eligibility. Lois Wolk, the California State Senator, is bringing back a bill that would allow people who are renting along with business owners to be allowed eligibility with the owners of the buildings to who implement solar PV and virtual net metering in housing complexes.

“This option isn’t particularly favorable to utilities that have to appeal to stockholders and deliver profits” says the CEO of Clean Energy Collective Paul Spencer, a company in Boulder, Colorado that is a current leader in the implementation of virtual net metering programs. They do so by dealing with the utilities and producing projects that generate the necessary energy.

The Clean Energy Collective began the first of this type of program in the US in 2010 in conjunction with the Holy Cross Electric utility in El Jebel, a small town near Aspen. To accomplish this Spencer had to overcome numerous obstacles, including dealing with security and federal tax law, and producing software that implements the energy credits to go towards their utility bill.  Since this time Clean Energy Collective has negotiated deals for virtual net metering in 6 different states and with fourteen different utilities, including one that is investor owned, Xcel Energy.
The vital thing is to find a price that the utilities can accept and that the consumers can be pleased with. He adds that the utilities do benefit from these metering programs because they allow them to meet the state’s requirement for renewable energy.

Growth in Massachusetts

Clean Energy Collective has recently undertaken plans to build four separate solar arrays (or solar community gardens) in the Massachusetts area for their virtual net metering programs there. These gardens will be constructed in areas where three of the largest state utilities operate.  As in other places, the Massachusetts community panels are available to those that first apply. Still, residents and eligible customers can purchase panels capable of producing 100 percent of their energy. 

Investment Return

Average solar panel costs are lingering around $750, and the average first year return being 5.5 to 10 percent payback. Spencer estimates that it takes between 7 to fifteen years to break even after you consider inflation.

And what if the owner of the panel moves to a different  home?

If the new house is in the area provided by the same utility then the owner can simply tell the utility. If the new house is out of this area then it can be transferred to someone who is still in the area. Spencer describes the investment similar to a car, “You own it, so if you can’t use it anymore sell it at a price of your choosing.”

Future Expansion

With active negotiations in place with over 135 utilities in 38 different states, Clean Energy Collective is optimistic about potential future growth and expansion for virtual net metering.  They still remain realistic, though. Says, Spencer “Expanding into all 50 states would be difficult, since some states don’t get the sunlight, or have power prices too low, to be an effective match.”


Article written by Jennifer Coleman of Sun Source Solar Energy Brokers, providing solar brokering, brokerage, and solar energy consulting services in Santa Rosa, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and San Francisco Counties.  For more information, please visit

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