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Could Utility Company Put Damper on Solar Energy in Idaho?

The Snake River Alliance helped more than 100 families install solar panels on their rooftops over the past year and a half. (MariaGodfrida/Pixabay)
The Snake River Alliance helped more than 100 families install solar panels on their rooftops over the past year and a half. (MariaGodfrida/Pixabay)
February 26, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Could a proposal from the Idaho Power Company cast a shadow on the future of solar energy in the Gem State?

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the utility company's proposition to state regulators to place Idahoans, who have installed rooftop solar panels, into a new class of energy providers.

If approved, Idaho Power could hike rates for these customers.

Wendy Wilson, executive director of Snake River Alliance, says this is the wrong time to discourage solar customers with higher rates.

In the last year and a half, her group has helped more than 100 families install solar panels on their homes.

"We think that the program is very strong and that the future of solar energy in Idaho should be really bright, but the current proposal that Idaho Power has put forward puts a wet blanket on where we're going with solar," she states.

Idaho Power is proposing the change because of a policy known as net metering, where customers are compensated for excess energy they produce and send back onto the grid.

The utility says costs are shifted onto other customers when panels aren't producing energy.

Public meetings on the proposal are planned in Boise on Thursday in the Idaho Public Utilities Commission hearing room and Pocatello on March 5 at the City Council Chambers.

Statewide, solar grew modestly last year. According to the Solar Foundation, solar jobs grew by 7 percent between 2016 and 2017.

The state ranks 36th in solar jobs per capita nationwide. But Wilson says the state has a lot of potential. She sees this is as a battle for the future of Idaho's energy system.

"Idaho could have 100 percent renewable energy if we wanted to,” she points out. “And we have a regulated monopoly and a commission that is supposed to be responsive to the needs of ratepayers in Idaho, and we have a wonderful opportunity to do it right here."

The Snake River Alliance is asking the Public Utilities Commission to perform a study on the benefits and costs of net metering.

It and other groups have intervened in Idaho Power's request. Public comments on the proposal will be accepted through March 8.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID