Over the last year and a half, many community solar subscribers in New York have been receiving electricity bills with no sign of their community energy credits. In extreme cases, utility bills haven’t been delivered for several consecutive months at a time which eventually leads to one large bill. For customers, this is challenging to anticipate and budget for, especially at a time when electricity costs are so high. This issue has become widespread enough that the community energy industry and a number of elected officials have involved the New York Public Service Commission to mediate a resolution.
In this article, we will highlight which utility customers are being impacted, what’s happening, why, and how we’re responding both as PowerMarket and as a broader industry dedicated to guaranteed electricity bill savings from clean energy.
Which utilities are experiencing credit and billing delays?
A number of New York utilities – Central Hudson, Con Edison, NYSEG, National Grid, and others – began experiencing substantial problems in the fall of 2021.
Central Hudson’s credit and billing process was severely affected by a system update that was prematurely rolled out in September of 2021. This issue resulted in thousands of complaints recorded by the Public Services Commision (PSC) against Central Hudson and has been heavily reported on in numerous publications. On December 15, 2022, the PSC released a 62-page report detailing many shortcomings which concluded with an ‘Order to Show Cause’’, to which the utility responded on January 17, 2023.
Con Ed is also woefully behind, leaving some customers’ accounts uncredited for over a year at this point. Individual subscribers report to us that Con Ed’s CDG credit specialists attribute their backlog to a partially manual system that is overwhelmed by the high number of their customers who have chosen to be on a community solar project.
NYSEG has also experienced these issues. The PSC held a stakeholder meeting on Nov. 9th around delayed billing issues in NYSEG and RGE territory and found, as reported here, that "29 percent of all CDG customers reported were receiving [utility] bills within 30 days, and 71 percent were receiving bills outside that timeframe."
While extremely problematic for community solar subscribers, CDG providers, and the clean energy industry at large, these delays come with seemingly little to no consequence to the utilities.
What’s the impact?
Billing and crediting delays have often resulted in customers not receiving credits for many consecutive months on end and sometimes not receiving an electricity bill at all. As mentioned earlier, some customers have gone over a year without benefitting from the credits they’ve earned. When the utility finally applies community solar benefits to each member's utility bill and invoices for electricity usage to date, this unfairly creates a large payment that’s due all at once. When the utility’s billing becomes erratic, suspicion understandably (albeit mistakenly) is often cast towards the community energy provider as the cause.
As if missing benefits for subscribers isn’t bad enough, CDG providers have been unable to collect payment for the energy distributed throughout utilities’ grids, making the process of recouping their investment on schedule nearly impossible. When utilities delay the monthly reports that CDG providers base their billing on, providers are often forced to issue many months’ worth of invoices in rapid succession. This understandably becomes a billing nightmare for subscribers and has led some to depart the program.
Fortunately, at PowerMarket, we have a flexible payment policy as part of our business process and software. If you’ve experienced any of the above issues and need accommodation due to a large bill, please let us know.
The severity of this issue is causing harm and undermining the core value proposition of enrolling in community solar: receiving guaranteed bill savings through participation in a local clean energy project.
Subscribers who disenroll due to utility billing and crediting errors often wish they could remain involved but feel forced to withdraw so they can hopefully return to a consistent billing schedule. This has proven costly for CDG developers who must incur fees to acquire replacement subscribers. Additionally, this has made future subscriber acquisition more challenging due to unfair reputational damage.
How is your credit calculated, and where is the disconnect?
To fully understand the origin of this problem, it’s important to have a grasp of the process involved in converting solar energy into credits on subscribers’ bills. Here’s a brief summary of how this happens: Your CDG (Community Distributed Generation) provider – i.e. your community solar company – assigns you a percentage of a solar project based on your historical usage, then submits a monthly report to the utility that confirms each subscriber’s allocation. After a full month of generation, the utility collects a reading of how much energy the project produced. The utility then calculates your monthly kWh credit based on your assigned percentage of the energy that was produced that month as well as your actual usage. Your adjusted utility statement is issued with the full value of your monthly credit applied. After your utility account has been credited, the utility reports your monthly adjustment to your CDG provider for final processing.
The breakdown is happening on steps 3 - 5. Many utilities have had trouble keeping up with the substantial growth the community solar industry has experienced over the last decade, leading some to manage their customers’ solar benefits with systems and internal resources that aren’t up to the task.
What’s happening now?
New York State’s Public Services Commission became involved after receiving thousands of complaints last year from affected customers of multiple New York utility companies. On September 15th, 2022 the PSC filed an Order that “initiates a process focused on developing CDG billing performance metrics, including a potential financial penalty tied directly to the utilities’ CDG crediting and billing performances.” Additionally, the order “directs the investor-owned utilities who have filed tariffs related to CDG to file implementation plans associated with automated CDG billing. These implementation plans include: (1) the current billing system constraints preventing full CDG billing automation; (2) the billing system changes necessary to effectuate automated CDG billing; and (3) the steps and timeline to achieve full automation of CDG billing.”
What are we working toward?
We’ve passed the 9-month mark since the PSC’s September Order and unfortunately, a substantial backlog remains in certain utility territories. While we’ve seen the accounting for quite a few energy projects advance, many are still experiencing a lag of over a year. We are calling on the PSC to follow through with whatever measures are needed to help utilities overcome these problems. Not only does the damage caused by these delays directly contradict NY State’s commitment to the expansion of renewable energy programs, the impact on subscribers and developers is unacceptable.
PowerMarket joins the NY Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA) in strongly encouraging the PSC to consider implementing a timeline in which earned credits must be applied and then reported to CDG providers. NYSEIA has issued a proposal in solidarity with other organizations to penalize utilities for a lack of accurate and timely reporting.
Although action on this proposal is still under development, we're hopeful this will prioritize timely accounting practices and thus improve community energy subscribers’ overall experience. Guaranteed savings is a foundational element of community energy programs’ success and is only possible if all entities involved have incentive to operate in compliance with PSC regulations.
What can you do?
If you reside in NY State and have been affected by CDG credit and billing delays, we invite you to join us in calling for more accountability. The Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection has launched a complaint form to determine the scope and scale of customer issues regarding CDG billing and crediting. We encourage affected subscribers to voice their concerns.
IMPORTANT: When filling out the form, you must name your utility service provider in the field asking for the “Company or Seller” in order for the complaint to be accurately processed.
In conclusion, we want to emphasize that Community Distributed Generation is a fantastic resource – one that allows community members to join together in boosting locally-produced renewable energy supply with reduced electricity costs as an added benefit. We have faith this program will continue to flourish once outdated systems and incomplete policies no longer hinder its potential. PowerMarket and other community energy industry leaders are working towards change, and we are beyond grateful for our subscribers’ commitment to stand with us as these roadblocks are cleared.
PowerMarket is always committed to helping our members work through any community solar billing issues they may face. Beyond ensuring proper payment notices are emailed prior to charges taking place, we can also offer payment flexibility as needed. Additionally, our team is available to perform audits of our subscribers’ utility statements to ensure all credits and savings have been received. If these are services you would benefit from, please let us know!