Solar integrators, solar mounting manufacturers and clean energy advocates oppose legislating rate increase on net-metering solar customers; preferring Public Service Commission research and analysis to legislation.
As Utah’s 2014 Legislative session begins, Rocky Mountain Power residential customers with solar panels participating in their net-metering system could face unexpected increases in their electricity bill and those considering incorporating solar into their new homes may be less interested. TRA Snow and Sun opposes this proposed fee because it could stymie solar industry growth.
Currently homeowners with solar panels on their roofs can take part in net-metering which allows them to feed electricity they do not use back into Rocky Mountain Power’s power grid when their panels generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. Then their electricity meter runs backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. The customer is then billed for their “net” usage. Besides saving the homeowner on their electric bill, excess energy can be used by others in the grid. However, as stated in Senate Bill 208, a new surcharge on this environmentally friendly system is being considered by some legislators.
Utah is an ideal place for photo-voltaic solar panel systems. The state’s elevation and cool climates during three of the four seasons contribute to efficient solar panel productivity. But large solar panel companies focus their efforts on surrounding states because the State of Utah has limited their solar incentives. Although solar sales are increasing, only about 2,000 residents use solar panels to create energy for their homes. The proposed bill set to be presented this session could further stall solar power efforts by increasing charges of net-metering citizens.
Supporters*, including TRA Snow and Sun, of Rocky Mountain Power’s current net-metering system consider Senate Bill 208, proposed by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, to be bad public policy because it by-passes the Public Service Commission’s thorough process of obtaining research, analysis, and public input. A bill creating a new law which will charge net-metering customers by-passes the safeguards of the Public Service Commission which is charged with regulating utility monopolies like Rocky Mountain Power. Their main responsibility is to ensure safe, reliable, adequate, and reasonably priced utility service and “conduct hearings and investigations of utility company operations in order to determine just and reasonable rates for service. The Commission strives to protect efficient, reliable, reasonably-priced utility service for customers, and to maintain financially healthy utility companies.*”
No comprehensive cost benefit analysis of this issue has yet been done. Whether the benefits exceed the costs of net-metering or whether the cost exceeds the benefits is unclear according to TRA Snow and Sun. In other states the benefits of the roof-top solar outweighs the cost but this type of analysis has not yet been done in Utah.
Jacob Anderson of TRA Snow and Sun, a solar mounting and racking system manufacturer in Utah, is one of several industry representatives who met together to consider the effects of SB208. The industry representatives were concerned that a Pandora’s Box for all rate making proceedings normally handled by the tried and true Public Service Commission formula could open. If that happens, the enticements to expand the solar industry in the state, which is already at a disadvantage compared to other regions, will be further exacerbated. Jacob asked, “Why are we stepping backwards instead of moving forward when it comes to solar energy? Rocky Mountain Power says ‘Go Energy Star’, ‘we’ll give you rebates’, ‘ enroll in our Blue Sky program’ which they say helps build a market for renewable energy while at the same time supporting the establishment of an un-researched surcharge on their solar customers who are already contributing. It’s a step backward.”
Anderson adds that fees and rate hikes for solar development will be detrimental to the solar energy market in Utah that is providing local, skilled jobs. In addition TRA Snow and Sun believes residential and commercial solar panel systems benefit everyone in the form of clean energy which contributes to reducing air pollution, a situation that has caused many Salt Lake City and Wasatch Front residents’ distress due to severe air pollution during the winter inversions. As legislators consider new laws, they would be wise to remember that solar energy helps keep the air cleaner, conserves natural resources, saves future power plant costs, and helps teach residents to conserve and be efficient with power.
Senate Bill 208 is currently in committee.
* Deseret News, Critics wants lights out on net-metering bill
*The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah bill to impose fees on solar power users advances
TRA Snow and Sun, Inc., located in American Fork, Utah, offers Roof Snow Retention Devices, Solar Mounting Systems and Roof Flashing Solutions. They supply to all types of customers, from the individual homeowner to the big developer and offer free engineered designs of all their systems. For more information call Jacob Anderson at 800-606-8980 or visit http://trasnowandsun.com/.