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ID Farmers: Net-Metering Proposal Could Cloud Solar

Irrigation incurs big costs for Idaho farmers that can be offset by solar projects. (David Frazier/Flickr)
Irrigation incurs big costs for Idaho farmers that can be offset by solar projects. (David Frazier/Flickr)
October 13, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- Some farmers fear a rate case before Idaho commissioners will throw shade on future solar projects. The state Public Utilities Commission will consider changes for farmers to its net-metering program, which credits producers for excess energy sent back to the grid.

The proposal could mean a lower net-metering credit rate. Russell Schiermeier is a farmer in Bruneau, located in the high desert of southwest Idaho. He has high energy costs and installed solar two years ago. Under Idaho Power's proposed change, he would be grandfathered in under the current rates, but only for 10 years rather than 25 like residential customers.

"It seems to make a lot of sense to kind of keep everybody on the same playing field, because a solar panel on my house is not much different than a solar panel in my field, and I don't see how the payback period takes less than half the time if it's not on my house," Schiermeier said.

The proposal also includes removing a dual-meter requirement for farmers, which would lower costs for solar.

The Idaho PUC will hold a hearing on these changes today at 6 p.m. It's accepting public comment until October 27.

Schiermeier said solar offsets high irrigation costs for farmers and the net-metering program helps them pay back investments into solar projects. But he said the potential changes are holding back some farmers.

"I've met a lot of farmers across the state - probably about 100 - that are super interested in solar but have concerns about the uncertainty of what the solar program is," he said.

Schiermeier said farmers also would like to see an increase to limits that currently only allow them to install 100 kilowatts of solar per meter.

He said Idaho Power is one of his most reliable business partners, and added that farmers could help the company reach its goal of shifting to 100% clean energy by 2045.

"We've got a lot of potential to work together in order to really hit some common goals," Schiermeier said.

Information on tonight's meeting is available at puc.idaho.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID