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Raising the Roof Over Higher Home Solar Rates

Will Rocky Mountain Power's rate hike proposal have a negative effect on Utah's growing solar power business? (Getty Images)
Will Rocky Mountain Power's rate hike proposal have a negative effect on Utah's growing solar power business? (Getty Images)
August 9, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY - The Utah Public Service Commission holds a public hearing today on Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to address challenges the utility says it's facing in managing the electric grid with an influx of new solar power.

The utility wants to raise rates on net-metering customers - homes with solar panels that deliver excess energy to other users - to help cover the costs of maintaining overall infrastructure. James Voyles, senior director of policy counsel for the nonpartisan Consumer Energy Alliance, said the current economic model has shifted some of the costs from rooftop providers to less affluent users.

"It's allowing them to avoid paying some of the fixed costs associated with operating a grid," he said, "which has the natural effect of eventually raising the rates on everybody else when solar starts to reach high levels of what you call penetration."

Analysis by Utah Clean Energy found that Rocky Mountain Power's proposal doesn't account for the $1.3 million in energy that some 200,000 rooftop solar providers add annually. Environmental groups have noted that solar also brings public health benefits by reducing reliance coal-fired power plants.

Voyles pointed to new research that says building large-scale solar farms is the best way to get reliable and affordable solar to the most people possible. He added that current tax incentives make solar a solid investment in Utah.

"Solar is clean, it's reliable, it's affordable, it's a great energy source to move us forward," he said. "It's a great financial deal because if you're going to put in about $13,500 worth of solar panels, which is the average cost in Utah, you're going to get about $12,000 of that back."

The Utah Office of Consumer Services told the Standard-Examiner that parts of Rocky Mountain Power's proposal go against the public interest, and the agency wants the commission to consider the potential negative impacts on the solar industry as it considers raising rates.

The UCE analysis is online at utahcleanenergy.org and the CEA research is at consumerenergyalliance.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT