Real Estate

Regulator finds postponement of digital meter at owners of solar panels ‘unfair’

The Flemish energy watchdog Vreg does not want the owners of solar panels to be the very last to receive a digital meter. The regulator says this in an advice on a draft decision by the Minister of Energy Zuhal Demir (N-VA).

Demir had announced in mid-February that so-called prosumers could request a postponement until 2025, after the Constitutional Court overturned the regulation on the virtual reversing counters.

But the scrapping of the December 31, 2022 deadline to give all solar panel owners a digital meter leaves the Vreg unhappy. The regulator fears that ‘a number of prosumers will use all possible means to ensure that a digital meter cannot be installed’, it sounds. “It might seem unfair and arbitrary to the existing prosumers with a digital meter that, unlike this group, they don’t have the opportunity to fully enjoy the analog reverse counter.”

For the Vreg it is important that the prosumers are also ‘encouraged to use the network efficiently’ via the digital meter and the capacity tariff. They can make the best use of the digital meter, with innovations such as feed-in contracts and dynamic electricity contracts.

According to the Flemish rollout schedule, a transposition of a European directive, 80 percent of the digital meters must be installed by 2025, and all by 1 July 2029. Existing solar panel owners are a priority target group for the roll-out of the meters, to ensure efficient grid use. But in order not to slow down investments in solar panels too much, a transitional regime was foreseen: those who had solar panels installed until last year could also opt to use a virtual reverse counter with a digital meter for fifteen years.

The Constitutional Court scrapped that system in January, in a procedure initiated by, among others, the Vreg. That is why Demir came up with a new compensation scheme: prosumers will be scrapped as a priority target group in the rollout of the digital meter and can request a postponement from grid operator Fluvius until 2025 to install a digital meter. For owners of solar panels who already have a digital meter, there will be a retroactive investment premium.

Invoice

In the advice, the Vreg also considers the impact of these compensation measures on the electricity bill. Due to the processing of applications for a retroactive investment premium, Fluvius is saddled with extra work and therefore costs, says the Vreg. These costs are estimated at 830,000 euros for 2021 and may be passed on in the network tariffs, and therefore also in the electricity bill.

Because the Flemish coalition agreement states that ‘the additional costs on the electricity bill should certainly not increase further as a result of Flemish policy’, the Vreg also fears that the government would obtain funding for the additional costs from the fees with which the regulator buys up green energy certificates, among other things. This could also indirectly lead to higher distribution network tariffs.

The cabinet of Minister Demir says it will ‘take note’ of the comments of the Vreg.

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