This year, Rocky Mountain Power celebrates 102 years of monopoly control over electricity in Utah. Rocky Mountain Power is celebrating over a century of almost guaranteed profits by seeking another $40 million, just in profits, from Utah ratepayers and a $4.25 monthly fee from homeowners who have made personal investments in rooftop solar power. When you use less electricity by switching out old appliances for energy-efficient ones, buying a programmable thermostat or cooling off in the shade instead of turning on the AC, Rocky Mountain Power makes less money. The same is true with solar panels. And Rocky Mountain Power doesn’t like that.
What Rocky Mountain Power fails to mention in all its messaging is how rooftop solar benefits everyone. Rocky Mountain Power’s own 20-year resource plan relies on 20 times the current amount of rooftop solar as a least-cost resource. Thanks to your neighbors who invest their own money in rooftop solar panels, the rest of us will pay the utility less for new power plants. And analysis shows that rooftop solar will save Rocky Mountain Power $1.4 million over the next year by producing energy, right where it is needed, at the time of day when it is most expensive. Most businesses would be thrilled to see those savings, but not the monopoly that makes a profit when it builds new power plants. Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain Power is not a company that must compete with other businesses by offering the best product at the best price, but one that benefits from a captive customer base.
Utahns want greater choice in our daily decisions, including the right to use less utility electricity. Rocky Mountain Power and other utilities, accustomed to total control, assert that they must be paid more even if you choose to use less utility power by going solar. They continue to argue this as more and more homeowners decide that going solar is a sensible way to save money and be less beholden to their utility.
The Public Service Commission should take the cue from other states and work with stakeholders on conducting a full analysis of the costs and benefits of rooftop solar. Other states have shown that rates designed through regulator and stakeholder engagement can ensure that our electric rates are fair for homes and businesses with and without solar.
We are reaching a point where we can no longer just assume the local electricity monopoly is operating in our best interest. In a recent op-ed, Rocky Mountain Power Communications Director Paul Murphy said the utility is "listening to [their] customers." Yet, 131 letters (and counting) have been submitted to the Public Service Commission in opposition to the proposed solar fee, and only one in favor. You have to wonder what customers Mr. Murphy is referring to.
The people of Utah are living in the 21st century. Rocky Mountain Power wants to remain in the heydays of the 20th. Thank goodness the typewriter business can’t demand to be compensated for revenue lost to personal computer companies. Rocky Mountain Power should become part of the future that Utahns want and need.
Brandy Smith is the communications coordinator for Utah Clean Energy.
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