Letters From the West

PUC staff says solar generators benefit Idaho Power customers

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission staff recommended their bosses deny Idaho Power’s proposed rate structure for solar and other net metering customers.

The staff countered nearly every argument Idaho Power made to justify the proposal that increases the rate  solar and wind users pay for the power they buy from Idaho Power and quadruple the fees they pay to hook up to the grid. Matt Elam, a utilities analyst in the engineering section testified that solar power generating customers add little cost to other customers and actually help reduce the cost of Idaho Power to meet its demand during peak periods.

Steve White installed solar panels at his business and home. He has fought Idaho Power's proposal.(Statesman File Photo)

Steve White installed solar panels at his business and home. He has fought Idaho Power’s proposal.(Statesman File Photo)

“Aside from potentially providing a capacity benefit during the utility’s peak, net metering potentially allows the Company to meet growing load with current resources,” Elam said in testimony filed with the commission.

He also said Idaho Power should carry over credits earned from power generation to future years without writing solar customers checks. About the only point of agreement the staff had with Idaho Power was the need for a cap on the amount of energy that can be generated from its net metering customers at 5.8 megawatts.

Currently Idaho Power has about 350 net metering customers and under the proposal could add about 414 new solar customers.

Matt Larkin a regulatory analyst for Idaho Power had already acknowledged that its solar customers were not costing other customers because they don’t pay for the fixed costs such as power lines and facilities than ensure power is available 24 hours a day. But the utility said it worried other customers would be picking up the costs in the future.

Elam said the proposed fee structure of Idaho Power would have allowed customers who used a lot of electricity to put a minimal solar system on their home and get the lower power rate. But people who use less power – often the people who install solar systems on their homes, would pay more.

The Commission will take into account its staff along with Idaho Power and intervenors including the city of Boise and the Idaho Conservation League, which also oppose Idaho Power’s rate structure. Customer and technical hearings were tentatively set for the week of June 10 and a target decision date of July 1.

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