It turns out if you devote a small percentage of your farm to solar, you can generate substantial savings on a per acre basis. Despite the tens of thousands in electricity savings that can be acquired from on-site solar generation, utility policies have plagued farmers from doing so, until the introduction of NEMA. No, it’s not some new miracle fertilizer or machinery; it’s a utility policy that has altered the energy landscape for farmers. In order to fully understand how Net Energy Meter Aggregation (NEMA) works, lets take a look at what Net Metering is first.
Net Energy Metering (NEM) works a lot like rollover minutes on a cell phone plan. Net Energy Metering allows a solar energy system to be installed behind your electric meter to “cancel out” the energy coming from the grid with solar generated energy. If the system “over produces” – more power is generated than is needed – the excess energy is fed to the grid and can be “banked” or “credited” for future use. Each meter must be “net metered” with its own solar system at that site. However, while this policy works great for users with one meter, it was not the most practical or economical model for customers with multiple meters on the same property separated by significant distances. For farmers and other businesses with multiple meters, this type of net-metering policy does not make financial sense, because each meter would need its own (smaller) solar system, leading to a higher install cost (versus one large system for the entire property).
Enter Net Energy Meter Aggregation, the new California PUC policy that allows for a single (larger) solar system to offset multiple qualified meters without physical connections. If NEM works like a rollover minutes plan, NEMA is the family plan. This policy allows for one, larger system to feed multiple meters without physical connection, not only lowering install costs but interconnection costs as well. This represents a more economical approach to install solar, and is less disruptive to the farm than having numerous small solar installations dotting the property. It is available in all investor-owned utility territory (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric), as long as the aggregated meters are on the same or contiguous properties that are owned or leased by the same utility customer.
One constraint to NEMA is its size limitation of 1MWac per parcel. However, that is sufficient to feed irrigation needs of 1,000 to 2,000 acres of most type of farms, and there is no limitation to the number of parcels that can have solar installations. But the end result of cheap and reliable energy – with up to $250k dollars in savings a year, which could be paid off within 5-8 years – more than makes up for the early inconveniences of the application process.
NEMA provides a way for farmers with multiple meters to utilize their own land to generate renewable energy. It is cheaper to build one large solar energy installation that produces the same output as multiple small installations. NEMA has created a valuable opportunity for farmers to reap significant on electric bills. Harvest the sun too, it’s raining photons every day.