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Rooftop Solar: The tariff case raises the stakes on what’s right for consumers

SALT LAKE CITY – Solar advocates say a Rocky Mountain Power proposal to reduce the amount it pays future rooftop solar panel owners for excess energy is a threat to further development of renewable energy resources and will discourage additional investment from Utah customers.

A case on the proposal is expected to be heard by the Utah Public Service Commission this week, after the utility company completed a three-year cost-benefit study of rooftop solar value.

Kate Bowman, renewable energy program manager with Utah Clean Energy, said on a webinar on Friday that the process will define the future of rooftop solar in Utah.

“Access to rooftop solar is a choice people want to make and a choice they should have,”

; he said.

Rocky Mountain Power’s net-metering program started in earnest in 2008, with just 372 customers. In 2017, when it ended with that compensation rate, there were 27,800 rooftop solar customers in the state. It has since grown to nearly 36,000 customers.

However, Bowman said commercial and residential solar make up only 2% of Utah’s energy mix, with plenty of room to grow.

After the end of the traditional net metering program, Rocky Mountain Power implemented an agreed transition program in a clause approved by the utilities commission to reduce the fee from 8% to 10% for new customers.

In the latter proposal, Rocky Mountain Power seeks an 84% reduction in the compensation rate for new solar customers, supporters said.

“We believe we should only pay the market rate, not the prime rate,” spokesman Spencer Hall said.

He added the utility company’s recommendation to the Utilities Commission on the issue of customer-generated electricity to minimize the shifting of costs to other customers by setting a rate that Rocky Mountain Power believes is fair compensation.

But Bowman strongly disagreed that it was “right” and said the benefits of solar energy on roofs were largely underestimated by the utility company.

“If Rocky Mountain Power’s proposal is approved, it sends a strong signal to potential solar customers that their energy exported to the grid is essentially useless,” Bowman said.

Sachu Constantine, Vote Solar’s chief executive of regulatory affairs, said the national organization reviewed solar power generation from more than 3,000 customers in Utah and worked out its own compensation rate.

The resulting 24 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to Rocky Mountain Power’s rate of 1.5 cents, reflects avoided costs such as additional investment in infrastructure or energy losses across transmission lines to the utility company because the solar energy on the roof is generated on site. In addition, the analysis took into account climate benefits such as reducing carbon emissions and the jobs created by the solar industry.

“It’s about fairness and allowing customers to participate in the value of solar,” he said. pointing out that such a low rate paid by Rocky Mountain Power will discourage new investments in rooftop solar.

The utility company’s proposal simply doesn’t reflect the value provided by solar on the roof, Constantine said, adding that the group simply wants a return to the net exchange rate, which was a compensation based on a kilowatt hour earned, not a share. its.

Josh Neves, an attorney for Utah-owned Blue Raven Solar, said the future of solar energy will be determined by what the Public Service Commission decides after Tuesday’s hearing.

After the net exchange rate ended in 2017, Neves said, many solar companies in Utah closed their doors and moved their business elsewhere.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s current proposal will easily be the most regressive rate restructuring in the country and will literally eliminate thousands of jobs here in Utah.”

Hall said the export rate paid to solar rooftop customers is borne by other customers and does not affect the utility company’s earnings.

He added that the State Bureau of Consumer Affairs, which had argued against inequality in net metering for those who are not in the system, generally agreed with the rate cut.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said that the export rate affected the company’s earnings, but should have said that it does not affect earnings.

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