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Costa Rica could embrace additional, small-scale green energy

November 27, 2013

Costa Rica’s Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) is considering a change in policy that would make small-scale green energy pursuits, such as residential solar panels, more financially feasible.

The proposed regulation would create “net metering,” allowing residential and commercial electricity consumers to contribute their own electricity production to the grid – and profit from it.

Jim Ryan, founder of ASI Power & Telemetry in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, explained that the current system creates a barrier for most homeowners to benefit financially from solar panels. Ryan said that most electric meters in Costa Rica move in only one direction – the one that charges the consumer. This means that even if an eco-conscious consumer installed solar panels on the roof, that consumer would pay the utility company for every kilowatt hour his own investment exported to the distribution company.

Ryan said the new regulation would allow home owners to build up a credit with the utility company based on the electricity generated.

“It’s crazy that Costa Rica – this land of green and carbon neutral – does not make it easy for consumers,” Ryan said in a phone interview.

Those who get power from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) already have access to net metering, according to Ryan. However, those served by the various electricity cooperatives, such as Coopeguanacaste, do not. Ryan, whose business installs solar panels, argued this change will help consumers tackle soaring electricity costs and help the country meet its carbon neutrality goal. Ryan said the change would affect the majority homes and businesses in Costa Rica, as they do not have access to ICE’s current net metering.

ARESEP is hosting a video conference on Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. to take comment on the proposed regulation. Those wishing to participate can email the agency here.

One consumer hoping for the change is the founder of the Pura Jungla Nature Reserve in Santa Cruz in Guanacaste. Ray Beise created the private reserve in 1990, living completely off the grid with self-generated power at a time when electrical infrastructure was poor in Guanacaste.

Beise said his initial off-the-grid power generation required batteries and maintenance, which hardly seemed sustainable. “What happens [with net metering] is that the power company becomes the battery,” Beise said in a phone interview.

His friends in California have installed solar panels, Belise said, and they delight in receiving a check every month from the utility company.

Another such consumer is Don van Akkeren, owner of Lola’s, a beachside restaurant in Guanacaste. Van Akkeren has yet to dabble in generating his own power, but is looking at options to help with Lola’s electric bill that can run up to $1,600 per month during the high season.

“The reason we are in Costa Rica is because of the sunshine,” Van Akkeren said in a phone interview. “It would be nice to use the sun for something more than getting a tan.”

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