SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – The Utah Public Service Commission took public comment on a proposal by Rocky Mountain Power which would allow for increased fees for rooftop solar customers. Solar advocates claim it would kill the industry in Utah, but the company says it is forced to pay higher costs for electricity from net metering customers.
Solar advocates rallied before the meeting to highlight the important role the industry plays in Utah. Ryan Evans is the President of the Utah Solar Energy Association, and spoke about the large number of people it currently employs.
“The solar industry now employs more than 4,000 people in this state, and contributes more than $350 million in economic impact,” said Evans.
The proposal was submitted in November by Rocky Mountain Power, and is asking for an increase in the energy charge, a demand charge, and allow the utility to pay less for the electricity being sold back from rooftop customers.
Michael Shea is the Senior Policy Associate for HEAL Utah, a solar advocacy group. While he says he understands why utilities are worried about more solar coming online. He believes it will actually help them in the long run.
“Like with any new technology there are a little growing pains, but I think in the long run term this will actually help benefit the utility it will provide an alternate power source,” said Shea. “And help them save a whole bunch of money.”
Jon Cox of Rocky Mountain Power notes they have to pay more for solar from rooftop customers than larger sources.
“The state of Utah requires us to pay three times for rooftop solar as we do for solar from a solar farm,” said Cox. “So the current market rate is substantially lower.”
During public testimony many who spoke in favor of the rate hike, including many electricians, argued that solar customers avoid paying for the cost to maintain the grid they still have to use.
“These fees will be used to pay for structures, wires, meters, customer service and substation equipment,” said Brent Donahue of the IBEW. “The instillation of net metering does not make customers independent from the grid.”
Solar installers disputed that point by saying the benefits of any solar outweighs other costs. Bill Davis is a solar installer out of Millcreek who also spoke at the meeting. He believes utilities are trying to kill solar because it competes with their bottom line.
“So what the utilities companies have done is find other ways to try and stymie or sabotage solar,” said Davis. That’s exactly what this net metering charade is about.”
The commission is set to hear in depth testimony from experts on both sides of the issue starting next week. Rocky Mountain Power and solar advocates have been trying to negotiate a compromise, and are also meeting again to discuss it.
Even if one is reached it would still have to be voted on by the commission.