Rocky Mountain Power’s 2020 Proposed Net Metering Changes
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In 2017, Rocky Mountain Power proposed a net metering rate for solar customers that would have made solar unfavorable to homeowners. To make sure a rate change is fair, the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Utah implemented a transition rate and solar generation study instead.
This new rate decreased customer compensation for excess generated solar power from 100 to 90 percent of what the utility charges. This transition rate, however, is only a placeholder until the commission can look at the results of the study.
After the Public Service Commission of Utah completes the Excess Compensation Docket for rooftop solar at the end of 2020, a post-transitional rate will take the transitional program’s place. Anyone that purchases solar after the approval of the new rate will be subject to it.
The Potential Impact of Rocky Mountain Power’s Proposed Changes
In preparation for this imminent change, Rocky Mountain Power filed a docket with the Public Service Commission on Feb. 3, 2020. This docket proposes that the worth of customer-generated solar is about one-fourth of the current compensation rate.
Rocky Mountain Power claims that its proposed changes are fair to everyone. The utility believes the proposed changes will make up the difference for the cost of the energy the solar generating customer pulls off the grid while compensating them for the excess solar energy they export onto it.
Rocky Mountain Power is proposing a net billing tariff and different solar connection fees. Let’s take a deep dive into these changes and how they would potentially impact Utah solar-generating customers.
The Proposed Solar Generation Rate
The more significant suggestion from this docket is compensation for excess solar generation. Currently, solar homes, without battery backup, export between 20 and 40 percent of the energy they produce.
Under the transitional program, the rate the utility pays customers for exported power is 9.2000¢ per kWh. These customers then pay for the energy they pulled off the grid, which averages out to a difference of 10 percent per watt generated.
If implemented, the suggested post-transition rate for solar generation put onto the grid would decrease to an average of 1.526¢ per kWh. This new rate changes who pays a smaller difference.
Two New Solar Connection Fees
Rocky Mountain Power already charges a one-time application fee and meter fee to customers considering solar. While these are customer fees, the solar company completing the paperwork and installation often covers them.
The docket filed by Rocky Mountain Power proposed a change to the amounts it charges. Being aware of these proposed changes is good to know regardless of whether the customer or solar company pays for it because it will still impact solar in some way.
To interconnect to the grid, customers first have to fill out and submit a non-refundable interconnection request application. Currently, in schedule 136, this fee is dependent on the level of the customer.
This fee can be anywhere from $60 to $150 per application. Customers with larger systems also have additional fees for each kWh.
The suggested interconnection fee is $150 for every application. The docket, however, doesn’t state whether this fee would still increase if a proposed system is above a specified size or if this is a standard fee for residential systems.
Currently, there is a net meter fee of $200 for each net meter solar generating customers install. The docket proposes this fee change to $160 per meter.
For the average customer, both the meter and application fee would change from about $260 to $310, which is a $50 increase from the current fee structure. While cumbersome for the solar installer, this proposed change is not likely to make a difference in the price of solar arrays.
When Utah’s Transitional Program Ends
The exact decision date is uncertain, however, there is a hearing scheduled from September 28th through October 9th. Regardless of the decision of Utah’s PSC, 2021 will usher in solar-metering changes for Utahans.
The Game Plan for Continued Solar Growth in Utah
The solar industry is well aware of the possible impact of the proposed changes by Rocky Mountain Power. If not handled correctly, the Utah solar market could plummet. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.
Regardless of the decision made by Utah’s Public Service Commission, there is hope for future and current residential solar customers. To help residential solar, continue to be a viable option in Utah, the industry has done a couple of things.
First, it is encouraging qualified homeowners ready to get solar now to act. Secondly, it is working on solar storage policy to help solar continue to be a viable option for Utah’s homeowners regardless of metering policy.
Encouraging Qualified Utahans to Get Solar Now
Qualified Utah homeowners have the potential to decrease their electricity bills today. Because of the way solar panels work, energy storage or connection to the grid is necessary for standard homes. The transitional program’s net metering rates allow homeowners that export solar energy onto the gird to have 90 percent of that power credited towards times when the home draws power from the grid.
Homeowners that take advantage of residential solar before the post-transitional program is in place have fixed rates until 2033. That is 13 years of a 90 percent payback on each exported kWh.
Typically solar panels last over 25 years, but homeowners often pay solar loans off within 5 to 20 years. Meaning you could have your solar array paid off by the time a new metering policy is in place, which would leave room in the budget to invest in a home battery and eliminate or mitigate dependence on the grid.
Utah Solar Storage Policy
The price of solar storage, particularly home batteries, has steadily declined over the years. Today, more individuals can afford home batteries with their installations. However, it is still out of reach for many homeowners.
While providing emergency battery backup options for these individuals helps prepare them for grid failure, it doesn’t meet all the homeowner’s energy needs. To make home batteries more affordable, solar proponents advanced Senate Bill 111 in the 2019 legislative session. While the bill was cut at the last second from Utah’s state budget, it passed on the first introduction of the storage bill, which means it is likely to make it into Utah’s budget in the 2020 session.
If passed, this bill would provide a grant for energy storage research. The resulting discoveries from this funded research would promote a continued decrease in solar storage prices, further decreasing homeowner’s dependence on the grid.
Utahan’s Part in Keeping Residential Solar Alive
While solar advocates are doing everything in their power to make sure residential solar remains a sound economical option, in the end, Utah’s solar policy depends on the people. If Utah’s officials see that their residents care about solar and show how it is impacting their lives, it will have far more weight.
An example of the power of the people in solar legislation occurred in Nevada. In 2015, the state’s booming solar industry was shut down in its tracks by an anti-solar policy. However, after Nevadans showed politicians that they valued residential solar, the state changed these policies.
For solar policy in Utah to continue to stay favorable, Utahans need to show they care. Whether you currently have solar or are looking into purchasing it, there is a way to participate.
A Call to Utahans With Solar Homes
Vote Solar, a nonprofit whose mission is to increase solar opportunity, is holding a study of Rocky Mountain Power’s current solar homes and their impact on the grid. Those who participate will help the organization analyze residential solar so it can make a better case for future residential solar policy in Utah.
Want to Go Solar in Utah? Do Something About It
While the study that Vote Solar is performing is for Utah Rocky Mountain Customers with solar, these aren’t the only individuals who care about solar. There are many reasons why those who care about solar may not have it right now. These individuals can make their voices heard by reaching out to decision-makers.
If residential solar is a possibility, it is best to do your due diligence and get it now. Installing an array now will ensure that your home has the current rate.