Letters From the West

Idaho Power says solar customers aren’t getting subsidy from other customers

Matt Larkin a regulatory analyst for Idaho Power opened the workshop on its net metering proposal at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission with a new message.
Idaho Power’s 353 net metering customers, mostly solar power producers, are not impacting other customers’ rates, Larkin said. The proposal is designed to ensure others don’t subsidize net metering customers in the future.
Contrast that to what the company said last December when it had filed its proposal. Then Idaho Power officials said the added charges are needed to ensure that its other customers aren’t subsidizing the solar-generating customers.
“It really comes down to a fairness issue,” said Tim Tatum, Idaho Power cost of service manager in December.
Idaho Power officials presented their case along with intervenors in the case. Then company officials took questions from many of the 50 people who attended the workshop.
Most of the people were either solar or wind net metering customers or businesses that install solar panels.

Idaho Power is proposing to double the capacity limit on the amount of energy that can be generated from its net metering customers from 2.9 megawatts to 5.8. It also wants to stop writing checks to solar and wind customers for surplus power at the end of a year. The investor-owned utility also wants to increase the rate solar and wind users pay for the power they get from Idaho Power and quadruple the fees they pay to hook up to the grid.

Matt Larkin regulatory analyst for Idaho Power, answers questions at a workshop on net metering.

Matt Larkin regulatory analyst for Idaho Power, answers questions at a workshop on net metering.

Ben Otto of the Idaho Conservation League said instead of a subsidy, solar net metering customers, who make up most of the new ones, actually provide more benefits to Idaho Power’s customers than costs.

“The value of net metering is what’s missing from this case,” Otto said.

Solar customers say the changes proposed by Idaho Power will make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to recoup their investment in solar panels. Idaho Power claims the net effect on customers will vary depending on how they use and generate energy. Some customers will be paid more than they currently receive, while others will get less, the company claims.
Larkin said their were other options to net metering for solar producers who want to sell power and not just offset their own use.

Idaho Power’s current rate structure only allows customers a bundle of services and not the option to choose, Tatum said during the hearing in response to questions. Solar customers might just want reliability services.

“Our rates right now are only designed to take those bundled services,” Tatum said.


Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West