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Farmer wins battle with Central Hudson over solar

Solar panels collect the sun's energy on Milton farmer William Werba's property on Old Indian Road in the Town of Marlborough on Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo: Patrick Oehler/Poughkeepsie Journal)

PSC rules utility must allow credits to be claimed at home

William Werba will no longer have to worry how much electricity is costing him at his Town of Marlborough home.

The state Public Service Commission has ruled in favor of the 74-year-old Ulster County apple farmer in a dispute with Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. over solar power credits.

In a decision issued Wednesday, the PSC said Central Hudson cannot prevent Werba from offsetting his home electric bill with credits generated by an 88-panel solar array at his farm about a mile away.

Central Hudson claimed Werba was not entitled to the credits because his farm is registered as a limited liability corporation and his home is in his name, thus representing two distinct Central Hudson customers.

That, the utility said, disqualified the project from state rules that allow farmers to generate energy in one location and offset costs at another owned by the same farmer, a process known as remote net metering.

The PSC disagreed, saying the utility's arguments "elevated form over substance" and ordered the company to modify its tariff.

Werba said he was pleased with the decision.

"It has some major implications for people in my situation," he said.

The PSC's decision applies only to farmers who are the sole owners of an LLC or other similar corporate entity and who own or lease power-generation equipment.

"Our procedure for identifying customer participation in remote net metering was transparent and consistent with public service law," Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian said. "We will comply with the order, which we view as helpful as it provides greater clarity for remote net metering in farm applications."

Central Hudson argued that ensuring the homeowner is also the sole proprietor of the corporation would place an administrative burden on the company, because it would have to examine corporate documents and tax returns on an ongoing basis.

Again the PSC disagreed, saying constant checking is not necessary. The utility only has to make the determination at the outset of the agreement, and then it is up to the customer to inform the utility if the ownership has changed.

"Farms have different business structures to best fit the farm family’s needs," said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, "and this ruling reflects the true intent of remote net metering. Going forward, it will allow farms to maximize the benefits of on-farm electricity generation."

The petition on Werba's behalf was filed by Hudson Solar, the Rhinebeck-based company that sold the farmer his solar panels.

Jeff Irish, Hudson Solar's president and owner, said Central Hudson was the only utility his company had dealt with that had denied credits based on customer identification.

"It’s obviously the right decision," Irish said of the PSC. "Central Hudson was acting contrary to the intent of the legislation."

The PSC also ruled Werba will not be able to claim retroactive credits after the interconnection was approved in the summer of 2015.

It said Central Hudson's rejection of his application was consistent with its tariff at the time.

The commission also rejected Hudson Solar's request that Central Hudson create a preliminary approval process, whereby applications would be weighed before the panels were installed.

The PSC said a pre-approval process could create false certainty for customers, who might submit the early application without fully considering the ways in which their situation could change.


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