Many businesses and some homes have multiple utility meters that record energy use in different buildings or groups of buildings. This presents a challenge for solar panel installations. The current Netmetering Rule in Florida treats each utility meter as a separate customer. Even though your business entity may be the same, the utility company bills you separately for usage on each meter.
Netmetering means that when you connect solar panels, you are just billed for your net electricity usage in any given billing period. You don’t want to “over-produce” on any given meter on an annual basis because if you do, you only get compensated at the “wholesale” rate, reducing your return on investment. Therefore, it is advisable to match solar panel production to consumption on any given meter. But that is easier said than done because energy use varies over time and is unpredictable.
You might think the easy solution is just to ask the utility company to combine the billing on all of your meters. Unfortunately, there is a law against Conjunctive Billing (FAC 25-6.102). Otherwise known totalizing metering, additive billing, plural meter billing, conjunctional metering, aggregated billing and other names, conjunctive billing would allow aggregating all of a business entity’s meters into a single bill. This antiquated law, established in Florida Administrative Code in 1969, was probably established to protect consumers and utilities alike. Consumers benefit by allowing them to separate utility bills to better understand their facilities’ energy use. Utilities are allowed to charge a customer charge for each meter to cover fixed administrative and equipment costs. However, computerized billing and smart meters have changed the game, and the conjunctive billing rule is outdated.
So what options exist to get around this issue? There are essentially two ways we deal with this.
- Size solar arrays to approximate the energy use on each meter and connect systems accordingly. This is the lowest initial cost option. It works well if you can reasonably predict annual energy use on each individual meter. However, we often run into challenges when, for example, the size of available roofs don’t correspond to the proportional energy use of that building. Long trenches and wire runs may be necessary to achieve balance and maximize energy offsets.
- Combine all of a facility’s meters into a single meter. The upfront cost may be substantial, but often we can recover a lot of that cost through reduced customer charges or demand charge reductions. It also simplifies system design and provides the best opportunity to maximize energy offsets without “over-production” on any given meter. Aside from initial cost, you will also lose the ability to determine energy use from specific buildings or subsets of buildings. You can get this functionality back by implementing energy monitoring in other ways. This strategy also results in the simplicity of paying and accounting for a single utility bill.
You might ask whether utilities will allow you to combine meters. The good news is that you can legally do so, at your own cost of course. As long as your business or home is on a single legal parcel or adjacent parcels, you should not have any problems. The utility company is required to provide a “customer” with a single point of service if desired. There is another definition of a customer for this purpose, which is a single owner on the same or contiguous properties. Depending on your facility or home, this could be a low-cost simple change or could require site-wide redistribution of power at a substantial cost. Each situation is different.
There are laws on the books in some states, and efforts in Florida to allow conjunctive billing not only at a single site but across sites owned by a single legal entity. Imagine if you have one large headquarters with enough solar panels to cover your entire company’s energy use and several satellite locations without solar panels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset your total energy use and be billed accordingly? Unfortunately, that is not possible at this time. You would need solar panels at each site to offset energy use on individual meters.
If you have multiple meters at your facility in Florida, gather up your electricity bills and contact your solar professional to see what options you have. If you are planning a new site that is expected to incorporate solar panels in the future, we recommend a single point of service, even if you will incur extra initial costs to distribute power across your facility. This will let you maximize the benefits of solar and increase your total return on investment. Don’t let this complication turn you away from an investment in solar energy. Multiple meters on a facility presents challenges that we can overcome with experience and planning.