Electrical distributors have six months to start net metering

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is an update to an April 2 article entitled: ìResidents to get OK to produce and bank electricityî

The landmark Autoridad Reguladora regulation referred to in this article, which requires all electricity distribution companies to offer their residential and commercial customers grid-interconnection and net-metering privileges, was published in the governmentís La Gaceta April 8. This means that the clock is now tickingí on the 6-month period that the distribution companies were granted by the Autoridad in order to prepare, submit and get approval on the technical requirements, application form, interconnection contract and commercial terms, all of which are required for consumers to apply for and receive net-metering services.

This six-month  period for the electricity distributors to prepare their agreements is very, very generous, especially considering that all the distributors actually need to do is to adopt the exact same application, agreements and technical standards that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has used very successfully for four years in their pioneering pilot program for net-metering which began in 2010. This is essentially what the Empresa de Servicios P™blicos de Heredia wisely did when it recently introduced its own net-metering program. (ICE and ESPH are the only two electricity distributors in the country with enlightened policies regarding small-scale, private power generation by their customers, i.e. the only two currently offering a net-metering service).

However, given that the CompaÒÌa Nacional de Fuerza y Luz and some other distributors have consistently opposed the governmentís policies promoting Costa Rican home and business owners being able to generate part or all of their own power, it will be a pleasant and welcome surprise if they donít use every bit of this liberal time period, and especially welcome if they donít use this process as an opportunity to introduce complexities that serve as barriers to customers taking advantage of their new right to access and use the national grid. In this respect the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios P™blicos was wise to require the distributors to submit their documents and get approval.

The silver lining here is that home and business owners who are interested in investing in their own renewable generation, likely solar generation, can use this time period to prepare themselves. For instance, they can gather their historical monthly consumption history and identify qualified service providers who can design, install and warranty a private generation connected to the grid.

There are many new companies advertising themselves as renewable energy service providers, some very good, and some with questionable levels of experience and equipment knowledge, and some with downright poor quality equipment and poor business practices. Maybe the worst example of these shoddy practices are companies selling obsolete equipment that has no manufacturerís warranty protection, but concealing this fact from an unsuspecting client. So like any significant purchase or investment, consumers should do their homework, check references, read the small print, and maybe most importantly, visit completed projects by potential vendors  to see the quality of their work.

Also expats should be aware that once a distributor has Authoridad approval to actually launch the net-metering services, they will have to make an application with sufficient technical documentation to get the distributorís approval.  Due to its complexity and technical requirements, this application process will almost certainly require the professional help of the selected service provider. But once submitted, the distribution company will have a generous 120 days to process the application! And if the application is flawed, it may be that the process is even longer.

So, for someone considering an investment in private, renewable generation at a home or business, I suggest that he or she start now to investigate options for service providers and project financing, assuming the expat wants to have solar panels generating power and reducing your electricity bill in the coming summer. If they use this time wisely, they can be generating clean, economical solar power later this year. Or, if they are located on the ICE or ESPH distribution networks, they are able to begin this process anytime, as both companies offer an excellent service to their customers wishing to generate their own electricity.

Jim Ryan 
ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A.
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