Friday, April 27, 2012

PSE&G May Be right

I've mellowed out a lot in a week. When this started I was 110% sure that PSE&G was wrong and I was right. Back in 2009 we went through so many applications, inspections, rejections, approvals, connections, etc. that I was sure that a final net-metering check had to have been one of them. But a thorough check of my files yielded no evidence of a net-metering approval notification. I found one that said our application for net-metering was approved, but I guess that's not the same thing. So it's definitely not beyond the realm of possibility that I'm completely wrong.

Now, in my book PSE&G isn't completely off the hook. Not only have I been net-metering for 2.5 years, they've been tallying up the KWh in and KWh out (this is the net-metering part) and sending me bills on the difference. So even though I understand that a giant bureaucracy can lose track of a few customers with 48 solar panels here and there, they've tacitly approved the net-metering by sending me these bills. I haven't manage to get in touch with the appropriate net-metering person at PSE&G. I just left a message a few minutes ago. I plan to be my usual pleasant and jolly old self, accommodate the hell out of them, and do what it takes to get that approval and, more importantly, get a new net-metering-capable meter.

This all started when they replaced that "dumb" meter with that "smart" meter (which they didn't even realize they'd done until I told them). I wonder if they realize that the dumb one is better than the smart one?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

After Three Years New Jersey Thinks I'm an Unauthorized Net Meterer

This meter thing is turning into a huge fiasco. It's Sunday now and I'm feeling calmer. I'm a laid back guy, but I was pretty hot on Friday.

Unfortunately, and this is feeding into my frustration, this part of the year is prime time for net metering. There's a lot of sun and we're not consuming a lot of power, so ordinarily we net-meter a lot of power onto the grid.

I'm not going to let this turn into "I'm authorized!" "No you're not!" "Am!" "Not!"

Right now I feel so much calmer about it. I don't want to fight the state over this, life's too short for that. My plan is to take the high road and ask the state what I need to do in order to get a net metering-capable meter installed, and to resume my net metering arrangement.

This is going to push my system payoff date further into the future. How much is impossible to say.

Here's a recap of Friday's events, as told in a series of posts on InsideMdSports, a message board I hang out on sometimes. It all starts Friday morning.

Cast of characters:

ME: Me
PSE&G MAN: A man at PSE&G who refers to himself as a "net metering billing person."
PSE&G WOMAN: A woman at PSE&G who I talked with on Wednesday. Very knowledgable
about how net metering works.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I just read an email and I'm really upset and angry right now. It seems as though New Jersey now thinks I installed panels myself and am trying to rig up some [bleeping] system without authorization, approvals, etc.

It all started with my phone call to PSE&G on Wednesday, asking if I my new meter was capable of net-metering (sending excess power I generate back onto the grid and crediting me for it). I thought that went well. Yesterday [Thursday] I received this e-mail, which still makes it seem as though we're okay (this email is hard to follow. It's written almost as though it was being sent to somebody else, and then was converted at the last minute to be an email to me]:

----- start of email ---------------------
Good morning,
Yesterday, [ME] called, questioning how to read his new Net Meter. My co-worker, PSE&G WOMAN], explained how to read the meter but also inquired what the Meter number was because we are showing no such meter change on your account on our system. [ME] said he would call back with the meter number but he has yet to do that. We need this number to bill you correctly in the future. I tried calling the phone number that was on your account but that was out of service. Please give us a call at [xxx yyy-zzzz]. Thank you.
Net Metering Billing Dept
------ end of email -----------------------

So yesterday, I figured that since they didn't quite believe that they'd installed a new meter, I'd send them a photograph of it. Here's my email to them:

------ start of email ---------------------
Hi [Mr. PSE&G MAN],
I apologize for not calling back earlier. It's on my list but I've been busy today.
As I told [PSE&G WOMAN], somebody came by and replaced our meter last Thursday. He told me that the old one had been broken since September. I didn't realize this. Our bills are very low during that time period anyway because we generate more electricity with the solar panels than we use (so the bills must not have looked any different than usual).
The number on the upper part of the meter is: 05 55547309
The number on the lower part of the meter is: 000127083248H
I'd also like to learn how to read this meter. If you could point me to a resource I would really appreciate it. [PSE&G WOMAN] told me that this meter is capable of net metering, and is recording the amount of energy we export to the grid (and will credit us accordingly). Is that correct? I hope so. We definitely wouldn't have installed the solar panels if we thought the net-metering arrangement could be terminated at any time.
Please let me know if you need any new information from me, I'd be glad to help.
By the way, our phone number here is [(zzz) xxx-xxxx]. I'm not sure what that 609 area code phone number on our account is. Maybe it belongs to the solar installer?
Thanks so much,
------- end of email -------------

What I was hoping for was an email or phone call telling that everything was okay, the new meter does what you need it to do, thanks for sending us the information that our installer didn't record. Instead I got this (early Friday morning), which I'm rather upset about:

-------- start of email ----------------
[ME, I need you to call me at (zzz) xxx-yyyy. I will try calling you after 9:00 but if you see this first, please call. You need to turn off your Panels for now. That meter is NOT a Bi-directional meter & will not credit any excess you may send to the grid. There is a process to becoming a Net Metering Customer & it seems that something went wrong along the way. Please call.
---------- end of email -------------

Maybe I'm being oversensitive, but this e-mail, uh, angered me. It sounds like I'm being accused of unauthorized net-metering, a capital offense.
Here's how I replied. I don't really have a meeting, but I wanted to tell him that we did jump through all the hoops THREE YEARS AGO and let that sink in before we talk.

-------- start of email -----------------
I've been a net metering customer since 2009. Since then we've been credited for excess we send to the grid and earning SRECS since then.
I have a meeting to attend at 9:30 but I'll try to call after that.
------- end of email --------------------

The phone with [PSE&G MAN] call didn't go well at all. I'm pretty mild-mannered but I wasn't this time. He's telling me to cold-call another PSE&G guy to get a proper meter (which I'll do, of course). But I asked him why HE doesn't make the call, it'll be a lot more effective coming from him. When I call I'll have to start from square 1 again, and convince him that I'm legit.

I just have a feeling that whatever they need from me, I'm not going to have. Yet I've been net-metering for three years, it's obvious in the bills PSE&G themselves has been sending, I'm earning and selling SRECs, I have inspection certs, etc.

As an aside, I wish in retrospect I wish I'd checked up more closely on who that guy was who swapped on the new meter. I should have asked for ID, a work order, or something. I dropped the ball there, I guess. He came and left in about 5 minutes, believe it or not. The swap is basically unplugging that glass part and plugging in a new one.

But PSE&G isn't disputing that a new meter was installed, though they have no record of having done so. What they seem to be claiming is that they never heard about my panels and I have no authorization to do net-metering. I suppose that if I had called with some innocent question that had nothing to do with any work order or equipment swap, the same red flag would have gone up...

Here's a picture of the meter that started it all...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Maybe the Smart Meter is Okay

The people at PSE&G were pretty good yesterday, and eventually I was able to speak with Sharon, who knew her stuff. I'm still a little confused but I think she's telling me that if I learn more about the new meter I will see that it actually does do everything I want it to do. I took a lot of notes and will look for the information about that meter that she said was on their web site (if I search for "net metering").

The oddest part is that they have no record that my meter was replaced last Thursday. That's unsettling. They even asked ME to read the serial number from the meter and call it in so their records will be right. Who was that guy who did the meter swap? Just some guy off the street?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This Ain't Gonna be Easy

I just checked out the PSE&G web site looking for a magic portal through which I can easily report this issue (as detailed in my last post about the "smart" meter). There doesn't seem to be an easy way to contact them (what a surprise). I'll probably call the emergency number since they give me no other recourse...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My New "Smart Meter" Seems Dumber Than the Old One

A few days after PSE&G installed a new electric meter on my house there was this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, a lot has already been said about privacy concerns and big-brotherism when it comes to the new, smart meters. I won't rehash or even comment, but here's an earlier article about such concerns by the same writer, Andrew Maykuth, who does a great job covering issues important to me.

My concern is more down to earth. I don't think this new meter understands that I'm generating surplus energy and throwing it out onto the grid, and obviously isn't recording that. There doesn't seem to be a digital equivalent to "meter spinning backwards" on this LCD readout. In fact, I suspect that this meter isn't even allowing my surplus power to pass back through at all.

The installer guy made a few remarks about this, but he came and went so quickly that my feeble brain was unable to process it until after he was long gone. He never acknowledged my solar panels at all until I brought it up, which concerned me. Then, he expressed surprise that I had the "old meter" because he didnt' think it was "a solar meter." [I know from experience that the old one kept track of excess power exported back onto the grid, and this was reflected in our bills, so I don't think he was on top of his game here].

He then said that he didn't think the new one is, either. Now, knowing he was wrong about the old one, and imagining that the power company wouldn't leave this capability out of a so-called smart meter (or send him to install a "non-solar meter" at a house where they know there is a solar electric system), I figured he wasn't on top of his game here, either.

However, after watching the meter and the sky for three days, it is apparent to me that this meter isn't as smart as the last one. We've had a ton of sun and haven't used a lot of juice (no AC or pool filter), so we've definitely generated far more than we've used. Yet the number that appears on the LCD reading goes up during dark hours and doesn't go down during extended periods of sunlight. In other words, as far as I can tell, it never turns backwards.

PSE&G has been great to work with so far. They've been very cooperative with my installer and have handled the "net metering" transactions perfectly. I have to admit, though, that I'm not looking forward to working my way through solving this problem. They have a lot of red tape over there...

update: I watched the meter on our sunny Sunday. It's definitely not counting any KWh during periods that we are obviously generating power. That's good. But it's also not "turning backwards" (exporting our surplus onto the grid and crediting us for that). That's bad.