Letters From the West

Regulators shoot down Idaho Power rooftop solar plan

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)

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission shot down Idaho Power’s proposal to increase the rate customers who generate small amounts of power pay and quadruple their fees for hooking up to the grid.

The commission sided Wednesday with the 386 homeowners and small businesses who had installed solar panels on their roofs or built small wind power turbines. They were joined by the City of Boise, solar panel installers and renewable energy advocates who said the proposal was stopping individuals from helping offset the power needs of themselves and their neighbors.

It blasted Idaho Power for not seeking to work out the issues with customers before going to the commission. “The public input was especially thoughtful and thorough and, based on the record before us, we find that the public overwhelmingly opposes the company’s application,” the commission said.

“We advise the company that it would enhance consideration of future program-specific changes if it informed and obtained feedback from its customers and other stakeholders before proposing them,” the commission wrote.

Most of the customers were especially unhappy with Idaho Power’s plan to quit paying net metering customers at the end of the year and to force them to give up the extra power credit they had garnered. Later the utility changed the plan so they customers could select the 12 month period to make the cutoff more convenient.

The commission switched from payments to credits but told Idaho Power to allow the credits to keep building as long as the net metering customer remains at the current location.
Idaho Power had proposed doubling the 2.9 megawatt cap on power that could come from so-called net metering customers, who can send power on to the grid through their home connection at the same price they pay for the power they get from Idaho Power. But the Commission removed the cap altogether, saying in its order a cap “may disrupt and have a chilling effect” on net metering.

It also kept the price and the fees intact, acknowledging the net metering customers “do escape a portion of the fixed costs and shift the cost burden to other customers in their class.” But it said more work needs to be done to determine the correct price, which it said should be done in a general rate case proceeding.

Critics say the proposal is the latest in a comprehensive campaign by Idaho Power against new renewable energy producers who compete with the regulated monopoly and its coal, natural gas and hydroelectric power plants. Idaho Power officials say they are not against renewable energy, but do want to ensure alternative sources don’t cost its customer base more than they should.

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