In the recent Rocky Mountain Power net-metering settlement (a closed-door, back-room deal) the big winners are roof-top solar companies, Rocky Mountain Power and roof-top solar customers. Residential and small business customers lost and it is far more than just the extra charges on your electric bills.
This isn’t the first time our utility bills have been a targeted for public policy issues.
Rocky Mountain Power argued valiantly that they were only trying to protect their customers who don’t have roof-top solar, right up to the moment the deal allowed them to pass those costs directly to your utility bill. Their great concern for their non-solar customers quickly evaporated when those costs were not coming out of Rocky Mountain Powers’ pocket
The settlement sets up a three-year transition period to study the true cost of roof-top solar customers. This settlement actually expands roof-top solar customers and grandfathers them in, instead of addressing what the subsidy is. It sets the date of Nov. 15, 2017, for new customers to be grandfathered into the current net-metering program which runs through 2035. Rocky Mountain Power (nonroof-top customers) is now crediting net-metering customers around 10 cents a kilowatt hour for excess power they produce.
Rocky Mountain Power states that is about three times more than they can purchase power from a solar farm. But, in spite of RMP’s original proposal, the settlement goes much further, allowing additional new customers who install roof-top solar during the three-year transition period to be grandfathered through 2032, with a 9.2 cent credit for excess power.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Gov. Gary Herbert was the real driving force behind this settlement. The governor made it clear we needed to save jobs and the rooftop solar industry. He put immense pressure on all the parties to get a settlement. This is a new concept, using our utility bills as an economic tool to preserve jobs.The free market in Utah has always been revered but, according our governor’s position, the free market just can’t compete with our government’s job creation.
The issue comes down to just how much of a subsidy is enough to save the roof-top solar industry and who should pay. Now, I am a strong supporter of solar and all clean energy. But, I do not support forcing low-income, seniors and all other customers who can’t afford or don’t want roof-top solar to subsidize those who can afford solar panels and who will benefit financially from their investment. This really flips the Robin Hood theory on its head, forcing those with lower incomes and those on fixed incomes to subsidize upper-income solar customers.
Roof-top solar customers argue that we should support roof-top solar because it provides benefits to air quality. It does start to address our need to confront global warming. However, it does very little to alleviate the air quality on the Wasatch Front. In fact, seniors and lower-income customers do more for the air quality in the Salt Lake valley because they drive far less. Are these people going to be rewarded for their contribution to air quality, I sincerely doubt it.
But I guess no good deed goes unpunished. Now, they are going to be forced to subsidize those with large expensive homes while many more who can’t afford solar panels have difficulty paying for medicine and food. Our poor air quality is due to automobiles, industry, wood burning and our growing population, with new companies being enticed with our tax dollars. Until we address these issues, let’s not penalize those who benefit our air quality on the Wasatch Front.
The Net-Metering Settlement Stipulation Hearing will be at 9 a.m. Monday in the Public Service Commission Chambers, Heber M. Wells Building, 160 East 300 South, Salt Lake City.
Claire Geddes, Cottonwood Heights, is a consumer advocate and former director of Utah Legislative Watch.