Agreement reached over rooftop solar in Utah
Summit County and Park City see benefits from the settlement
September 8, 2017
Last month, rooftop solar customers secured a small victory when Rocky Mountain Power announced an agreement had been reached over the utility company's net metering program.
The agreement, between Rocky Mountain Power and several signatories, including Summit County, Park City Municipal, Utah Division of Public Utilities, Utah Clean Energy and Vivint Solar, among others, is a stipulated agreement that must still be approved by the Utah Public Service Commission. A hearing is scheduled on Sept. 18.
"This is the only way we could have been a part of the process to make sure that Summit County and its citizens were heard by the Public Service Commission and the other regulators," said Dave Thomas, Summit County's chief civil deputy attorney. "The county has a large interest in renewable energies and helping our citizens have renewable energy options, such as rooftop solar, and this was one way of helping protect that choice for residents."
The agreement, reached on Aug. 28, grandfathers current rooftop solar customers, which includes Summit County and Park City Municipal, under the current net metering rate structure. Net metering is the billing method the utility company uses to give credit to renewable energy system owners for the electricity they produce.
"Basically what that means is that Rocky Mountain Power will purchase your surplus electricity that goes to the grid through this program at the same retail rate that it is charging for regular electrical services," Thomas said. "Rocky Mountain Power's concern was it didn't want other customers subsidizing rooftop solar, which is what led to this settlement."
However, the agreement basically ends net metering for new customers that submit an application after Nov. 15 or 60 days after the Public Service Commission approves the settlement. It establishes a three-year transition program to provide export credits for rooftop solar customers that deliver solar energy back on Rocky Mountain Power's system.
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"All of the entities that have agreed to this asked for some amendments for tax credits for rooftop solar," Thomas said. "After this transition period ends, the new solar customers will be paid the export rate that is set by the Public Service Commission."
Thomas noted that one group – Western Resources Advocates – is opposed to the agreement. The group, based out of Boulder, Colorado, advocates for renewable and clean energy.
Lisa Yoder, Summit County's sustainability manager, said any action that weakens the economic case for rooftop solar is disheartening, "particularly given the many co-benefits of clean, renewable energy."
"However, a settlement that hampers, rather than essentially crushes the solar industry, is a win," Yoder said in an email to The Park Record.
In November of 2016, Rocky Mountain Power filed a request asking the Public Service Commission to approve a new three-part tariff structure for net-metering customers, claiming the current structure is unreasonable. In 2014, the Utah Legislature passed a bill with the intent of creating a cost-based approach to net metering, according to a new release from Gov. Gary Herbert's office.
Summit County filed a petition to intervene in the proceedings and asked the Public Service Commission to deny Rocky Mountain Power's proposed rates. Solar advocates, including county officials, feared the new rate structure would have had substantial impacts on solar initiatives across the state.
"Although the transition is not as good as solar customers have now, it is a way forward that the solar industry can live with," Thomas said. "That's what the settlement gives you. It is not as good as what we have now. But, it is much better than what was being proposed."
Spencer Hall, marketing and communications manager for Rocky Mountain Power, said the utility company recognizes that the agreement is not complete. But, he added, "We are happy to get to where we are."
"The new system is designed to clean up the bill and simplify the process," Hall said. "It just makes for easier calculations for everyone involved."
The settlement agreement can be found at https://psc.utah.gov/2016/06/20/docket-no-14-035-114-2/.
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