Solar Net Metering Battle Heats up in Utah

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Solar companies and industry advocates in Utah oppose proposed legislation there that could stymie solar growth in the state. Senate Bill 208 would add a surcharge for solar net metering customers. Opponents of the bill say the Public Service Commission should conduct research and analysis before such legislation is considered.

 

 

As Utah’s 2014 Legislative session begins, a net metering storm is brewing in the state. This is one of a series of such battles in the works this year. It’s of interest because it’s happening in a state with a lot of solar potential but not a lot of solar capacity — yet. Utah is not on the list of top solar states, but it could climb up the list with the right policies.

 

Legislation introduced in the state senate, Senate Bill 208, proposed by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would add a surcharge for net metering customers. That means that Rocky Mountain Power residential customers with solar panels who participate in net metering could face unexpected increases in their electricity bill. Homeowners considering incorporating solar into their new homes may be discouraged.

 

A number of solar integrators, solar mounting manufacturers, and clean energy advocates are concerned that the bill will stymie solar industry growth. TRA Snow and Sun, a solar mounting and racking system manufacturer in Utah and one of the companies opposing the bill, voiced its concerns in a statement released today.

 

Utah is an ideal place for solar power generation. The state’s elevation and cool climates during three of the four seasons contribute to efficient solar panel productivity. But large solar panel companies focus their efforts on surrounding states because Utah has limited its solar incentives. Although solar sales are increasing, only about 2,000 residents have solar panels on their homes. The proposed bill won’t help this situation.

 

Supporters of Rocky Mountain Power’s current net metering system consider Senate Bill 208 to be bad public policy because it bypasses the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) thorough process of conducting research and analysis, and obtaining public input. The Commission is charged with regulating utility monopolies like Rocky Mountain Power. Their main responsibility is to ensure safe, reliable, adequate, and reasonably priced utility service. They are expected to “conduct hearings and investigations of utility company operations in order to determine just and reasonable rates for service” as well as to “protect efficient, reliable, reasonably-priced utility service for customers, and to maintain financially healthy utility companies.”

 

According to TRA Snow and Sun, there has been no comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of this issue. In other states, the benefits of the rooftop solar have been found to outweigh the costs, but this type of analysis has not yet been done in Utah.

 

Several industry representatives met recently to consider the effects of SB208. They were concerned that a Pandora’s Box could be opened for all rate-making proceedings normally handled by the PSC. If that happens, the enticements to expand the solar industry in the state, which is already at a disadvantage compared to other regions, will be further dampened.

 

Senate Bill 208 is currently in committee.