The utilities regulating agency decided Monday to let electrical customers bank excess power with their distributor.
The action came at a board meeting of the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, according to persons close to the agency. Some technical details are yet to be worked out, and the decision needs to be published.
The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S.A., already do this to some extent. But the big Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz and a number of smaller power providers do not.
Electricity consumers will be able to install solar panels to generate electricity, and what they do not use they will be able to bank for up to a year with their local power company. The system is called net metering because a device tracks power in both directions.
Observers said that this is a good deal for Costa Rica because the country always experiences hydro power problems at the end of the dry season because lake and river levels are down. Expensive thermal plants burning petroleum products fill the gap until the rains return and raise the water levels.
But also at this time of year the skies are clear and the sun is strong. So solar power is seen filling the dry season gap.
Jim Ryan of ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A., in Liberia said that the Autoridad decision was backed by the central government.
“It’s taken till nearly the end of the Chinchilla government’s term to make good on the policy of universal net-metering privileges first announced in Doña Laura’s Plan de Gobierno over four years ago, but this is a day when those seeking to reduce their electricity costs, and their carbon emissions, can celebrate,” he said.
Ryan, who has a 30-year history in marketing solar power products, said that as traditional electrical rates soar, panels to capture the sun’s rays are declining in price.
“This is a historic milestone in Costa Rican public policy, finally ‘democratizing’ renewable energy so that all citizens can take advantage of the tremendous natural resources our country enjoys, i.e. solar, wind, biomass, hydro, etc.,” he added. “Consumers are no longer a hostage to a profit-driven monopoly electricity distributor. Now many consumers have options.”
Ryan confirmed the action by the Autoridad board. He has been following the issue closely.
The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has operated a net-metering pilot project for four years, so the technology has been tested.
A power customer who wants to sell electricity back to the local provider will have to invest in some form of solar panel. They can be on a roof or free standing, so-called pedestal installations.
Ryan said that the return on investment is favorable and that the panels last up to 35 years. Plus there is no import duty or sales tax on solar devices, he added.
The Autoridad held an open meeting on this concept in December. At that time Ryan said that there was opposition from entrenched elements in the industry. Even when the Autoridad decree is published, there may be legal action by firms with a regional electrical monopoly.
The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad seems to favor the project, in part because the company spends millions of dollars on petroleum for thermal generating.