The Vermont House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to lift the cap on how much power utilities can accept from net-metering projects. The current cap is 4 percent; H.702 would raise the limit to 15 percent of its peak demand from the previous year.

The provision sunsets in 2016, when the Legislature would reevaluate the efficacy of the program.

The bill passed 136-8 in a roll call vote on second reading, and elicited brief debate.

Net metering is a service that allows electricity customers to feed excess power, from residential solar panels or other renewable energy projects, back into the grid.

The state has created incentives for net metering to foster private investment in renewable energy, especially solar power, as part of an effort to meet aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the state's dependence on fossil fuels. By 2050, the state hopes to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Hardwick Electric Department, Vermont Electric Co-op and Washington Electric Co-op all hit the cap in 2013.

The House Natural Resources Committee proposed lifting the limit so that the smaller, rural utilities could continue to accept net-metered power. Green Mountain Power, the state's largest utility, was also getting close to the 4 percent mark, according to Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chair of the committee.

The state's net-metering program began with a 1 percent cap in 2002. The percentage was increased over time to encourage customers to invest in renewable energy. In 2011, net metering was monetized and customers who feed power into the grid can zero out their electricity bills. Klein says the program has taken off because of the incentives. In 2011, the state had 18 megawatts of renewable power; today Vermont generates 38 Mw.

Republicans in the House questioned whether the net-metering incentives shift the cost of renewable power onto other ratepayers.

Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, minority leader of the House Republicans, said he has not been assured that renewables have no impact on rates.

"We do have goals for reducing our carbon footprint, but we also have responsibility to economy, to businesses," Turner said. "We have the highest utility rates in New England. I remain concerned that the work we're doing on renewables may be driving up utility costs."