Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) places a paper insert in utility bill envelopes for netmetered customers (those with solar photovoltaic systems). This insert is a bit confusing, and it is no wonder that customers come to me asking if their solar electric system is meeting expectations. Months ago I made recommendations to LCEC on how to reword the information presented to make it more accurate and understandable, and they have made some improvements.
So how do you read the LCEC netmetering bill insert? Here is picture of a recent statement from a customer’s utility service. Let’s break down each line.
- Kilowatt hours consumed (from LCEC): This is the total amount of energy that your home used from the utility company. It is NOT the total amount of energy your home used. Your home also used some energy produced by the solar electric system.
- Kilowatt hours returned to LCEC (the grid): This is the excess energy that your solar electric system “sold back” to the grid when it was producing more power than your home was using.
- Kilowatt hours net from/to the grid: This is how much energy for which you will be billed. It is the difference between the energy you used from LCEC and how much you “sold back” to LCEC.
- You have reduced your LCEC billable consumption by: This is always the same as #2 above. I don’t understand the need for this item, and it is the most confusing item on the statement. The asterisk should actually be next to this item. Without the asterisk, it would be easy to mistakenly assume that this solar electric system only produced 281 kilowatt hours during the billing period. The bottom line is that LCEC has no idea how much energy your solar electric system produces. The utility meter can only measure energy drawn from the grid and returned to the grid. It cannot measure power produced by your solar electric system that is consumed by your home concurrently. This is where the use of a solar energy monitoring system is helpful.
- Reserves (accumulated) kWh to date: If the amount in #3 above is negative, it means that your solar electric system produced more energy than your home consumed in the billing period. This line is a running total of the “banked” kilowatt hours that you have in your account. If there are accumulated reserves at the end of the year, LCEC will cut you a check for the net amount of energy “sold back” to the utility.
It is unfortunate that this has to be so confusing, but it is a limitation of the bi-directional netmetering approach that local utilities have adopted. FPL uses the same type of bi-directional meter. Some utilities actually require a second meter that just measures energy produced by your solar electric system. This is called a revenue meter. You are billed the difference between your regular usage meter and the revenue meter. In this approach, the utility can tell you how much solar energy you produced, because you effectively sell all of your solar energy back to the grid. It also allows for varying energy prices. For example, you may be able to sell solar energy back to the grid for a higher price than the consumption rate. It also allows for a variety of time-of-use billing practices.
While the revenue meter approach is better for a number of reasons, the bidirectional meter is cheaper and easier to implement for the utility and the homeowner. The revenue meter would typically be easier for the solar contractor to install because integrating with some existing electrical distribution systems is troublesome. A revenue meter also allows you to compare you independent solar monitoring system to the revenue meter to ensure you are being credited properly for your solar production.
The LCEC bidirectional meter should accurately measure your net electricity usage. It allows you to sell your excess solar electricity back to the utility company at the same rate for which you purchase electricity. It may be a bit confusing, but ultimately it gets the job done!