Op-ed: Solar fee is justified by cost of powering the grid
When you flip the switch you expect the lights to go on. Reliability is the most important factor for Rocky Mountain Power customers followed closely by getting electricity at a reasonable price. For more than a century Rocky Mountain Power has been supplying reliable electricity at some of the lowest prices in the country.
In recent years, more customers have started installing solar panels and wind turbines to generate their own power. We understand their commitment to the environment and the benefit of saving money on their electricity bill. Rocky Mountain Power supports the growth of renewable energy and is looking for the best way to serve this new type of customer and keep prices fair for everyone.
Even though some customers choose to generate their own power to meet a portion of their needs, they continue to rely on Rocky Mountain Power for continuous reliable service. These customers still need the company's lines, poles and generators when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing, or when they produce more electricity than they need and store it on the grid.
These power-generating customers pay on average $4.25 less a month for that 24-hours-a-day service than their neighbors who haven't chosen to generate their own power. To help make sure all customers pay the same for their use of the system, Rocky Mountain Power has recently proposed that these customers pay an additional $4.25 per month so all residential customers pay the same amount for using the neighborhood poles, wires and other equipment.
We are learning from the experience of California, which didn't foresee the consequences of providing subsidies to customers who generate their own power before it was too late. Under that state's current system, which is similar to our own, the California Public Utilities Commission forecasts that by 2020 customers who generate their own power will cost other customers $1.1 billion annually. Because of this inequity, California is revising its system to charge and compensate power-generating customers in a way that is more even-handed.
Rocky Mountain Power is committed to providing cost-effective renewable resources to help meet our customers' electricity needs, and was one of the first utilities in the country to generate power using geothermal energy. We own 13 wind projects and also purchase electricity from wind projects owned by others, including the Spanish Fork wind farm in Utah. We're part of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the largest utility owner of wind capacity in the country and a national leader in solar development, with $7 billion invested in solar and wind projects. More information about our environmental commitment can be found at http://www.rockymountainpower.net/respect.
Utah customers who want to do even more to support renewable energy in the region and close to home can do so through our Blue Sky program. More than 38,500 Blue Sky customers in Utah have helped fund the construction of 104 community-based renewable energy projects and will help build Rocky Mountain Power's first utility-scale solar farm in 2016. The Blue Sky program is voluntary so customers have a choice whether they want to participate or not.
We are listening to our customers and working with regulators and others to find ways to keep electricity reliable, reasonably priced and environmentally responsible. We're also helping customers to save energy in their homes and businesses, which benefits everyone. Together, we'll make sure our customers continue to have the electricity they need when they need it and keep Utah's energy future bright.
Paul Murphy is Rocky Mountain Power communications director.