STATEMENT: HEAL Condemns Rocky Mountain Power Solar Fee Bid




HEAL Utah today strongly condemned Rocky Mountain Power’s bid to force rooftop solar owners to pay several new fees, policies that if approved promise to cripple Utah’s fast-growing solar industry.

The utility— apparently hoping its unpopular attack on solar would go unnoticed amidst the aftermath of a historic Presidential election — is seeking policy changes in a filing to Utah’s Public Service Commission on Tuesday.

“Rocky Mountain has made its intentions crystal clear today: It’s trying to make solar unaffordable for Utah families, in a bid to kill of a disruptive industry that is beginning to threaten its profits,” says Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s Executive Director.

The utility’s three proposed fees go far beyond earlier proposals that have made news in Utah. Provo, for example, passed a single fee on rooftop solar customers in September— a policy it soon rescinded so it could further study the issues once it realized the devastating effect the charges would have on area families.

Ironically, today’s filing is much more punitive than a fee that Rocky Mountain Power itself sought in 2014 of $4.95 per month. Just one of the fees the utility is asking for today—a hike of a customer charge that would add $9 a month to the bills of solar customer—is double that. In addition, the utility is asking for two other fees. One, in particular, the “$9.02 per kilowatt for peak period demand,” could be particularly crippling.

Utah County-based Vivint Solar, which analyzed a similar proposal that Provo considered but ultimately rejected, concluded that one would add $10,000 to the cost of a solar system over its lifetime — and extend the “payback period” from 10 years to 25 years. It’s not yet clear if the Rocky Mountain “peak demand” charge is better or worse than that proposed fee.

Pacenza pointed out that solar in Utah has grown sharply recently—there are 16,000 installations projected for 2016, up from about 500 in 2011—but these new fees will almost certainly halt that overnight.

“Solar has become affordable recently to a wide range of Utah families,” Pacenza noted. “That stops now. An investment that would pay off in a decade now will take 20 or 30 years before it pays back— if ever.”

Rocky Mountain Power claims that these exorbitant new fees are needed because rooftop solar systems “cost” other ratepayers money. However, the utility’s study—which no independent parties have had a chance to scrutinize—almost certainly relied upon only one side of the story. It likely ignored the benefits of rooftop solar, while only looking at what solar costs the system.

There are costs associated with solar, but there are also benefits. Here’s one example: When a solar owner makes excess power and pushes it onto the grid, she is sending power directly to the nearest electricity user – her closest neighbors. This maximizes the amount of electricity sent through the power lines and keeps costs lower for everyone in the system.

One more example. Rooftop solar electricity prices do not fluctuate, since the fuel is free. Fossil fuel energy costs often go up and down sharply, exposing ratepayers to rapid price hikes. Integrating more rooftop solar into the system helps protect customers from these fluctuations.

“Our utility is proposing fees that promise to crush solar power in Utah on hopelessly biased research,” said Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s Executive Director. “Utahns should be clear on what’s really going on here: The utility is trying to protect its profits while pretending to be concerned about its ratepayers.

For more information, or to schedule an interview, call Pacenza at 801-864-0264 or HEAL’s Policy Associate Michael Shea at 801-706-1885.