We here at HEAL were licking our wounds last week after a demoralizing vote by the Provo City Council. The council voted 4-3 to add a $3 capacity charge to rooftop solar systems. While seemingly a small amount, that would have added roughly $20 to the average bill of a Provo solar owner, effectively ending new rooftop solar installations in Provo.
This vote is emblematic of several fights happening around Utah, in the cities that have their own power systems and don’t get their electricity from Rocky Mountain Power. Each time, it’s a pretty similar story. City councils only hear a “cost analysis” on rooftop solar and none of the benefits. And even though there are relatively few rooftop solar owners in the community (in Provo there were only 160 out of 37,000 total customers), the utility becomes convinced that rooftop solar costs other ratepayers a pile of money. And, then, there is a very brief public comment period where solar advocates and the public can weigh in.
That’s how it went down in Provo: Which is why, while upset, we were not surprised when the council voted the way they did.
The reaction to Provo’s unfortunate vote was immediate: Vivint Solar, the nation’s second biggest installer, told the Salt Lake Tribune that because of the new policy, they would not be selling their product in Provo. Then, it seems, cooler heads prevailed.
On Monday, the Provo mayor announced that for the first time in his seven-year tenure he is using his veto power. Citing a lack of input from solar advocates and his dismay that Provo is now being labeled “anti-solar,” the mayor felt the conversation needed to be reset. Now the solar industry, residents and advocates can be part of the conversation to work toward a compromise.
We certainly appreciate the hard work of the state’s solar industry, which is rightfully explaining to decision-makers that as one of the fastest growing sectors in our state’s economy, they need to part of policy discussions.
One other important factor is the actions of residents of Provo. HEAL worked hard to encourage our supporters down there – this may surprise you, but we have several hundred – to email, call and talk to the council members. And the people of Provo showed up! At the Oct. 4 council meeting, for example, 27 Provo residents spoke out in opposition to the surcharge – while none supported it.
I strongly believe the mayor would not have vetoed the bill had it not been for all the pushback. This email is a little reminder that your voice matters and made a difference. And, this small but important fight is a preview of the BIG fight to come, when Rocky Mountain Power itself seeks new fees and surcharges – ones that could cripple solar not just in one city, but in most of the state.
Your Solar Rally Master,