Utah utility’s rate proposal sparks passionate public backlash

Utah solar’s rate battle just got real: The Sundance Kid has blasted Rocky Mountain Power’s (RMP) plan to target solar users for extra fees.

Robert Redford, well-known actor and solar proponent since 1975, penned a column for Time yesterday in which he argued Utah’s solar users are being unfairly targeted by utilities anxious to protect their profits.

According to the utility’s website, RMP is proposing a three-part rate for residential net-metered customers. The residential rate is separated into charges of $15.00 for a fixed customer charge, $9.02 per kilowatt for peak period demand and 3.81 cents per kilowatt-hour for the amount of energy used.

The plan has drawn not only Redford’s ire but is also coming under fire from Utahns. A Utah Solar Energy Association reports 76 percent of the state’s citizens oppose a rate increase on solar customers and believe RMP’s proposal discriminates against solar users.

The survey, comprised of 834 non-solar-using Utahns, also found more than 82 percent believe rooftop solar customers should have the right to reduce their electricity usage without paying additional fees.

“[To combat solar], some utilities are taking aggressive and irresponsible actions,” Redford wrote in the column. “In Nevada last year, the local utilities implemented higher fees and lower credits for solar-powered homes to devastating results.”

“We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past and punish citizens who simply want to save money and help the environment at the same time,” Redford added.

Utah is only the latest battlefield on which the public is challenging utility’s attempts to charge additional fees to solar customers only.

Earlier this year, the Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission reversed its decision to allow NV Energy to impose solar-user-specific fees. Floridians in November defeated Amendment 1, a utilities-backed attempt to codify into the state’s constitution their right to charge solar users fees at any time.

And while Massachusetts did allow a fee increase, it severely limited the amount. National Grid, the state’s primary utility, asked for an increase of 3X to 5X the current charge, an increase that was quickly quashed.

RMP argues it needs the three-step increase to recover $400 from each solar customer, which is the amount the utility says solar users underpay. It says there’s a cost shift of  $6.5 million each year to other residential customers.

But a report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center (EARPC) that reviewed 16 recent state-level analyses of the value of solar concluded that having solar customers on the grid does not have a negative effect on non-solar ratepayers.

To date, at least 16 states have reviewed the question of whether having solar customers in a state burdens non-solar customers with excessive costs of infrastructure upkeep. EARPC’s analysis showed the argument, often put forth by utilities trying to limit solar’s growth, is false.

According to the 2015 National Solar Jobs Census prepared by The Solar Foundation, Utah currently employs 2,679 people in the solar industry, including 2,013 installation jobs.

A hearing on RMP’s proposal is scheduled for 10 am MT (12 pm ET) at the Utah Public Service Commission offices. RMP has asked for the increases to go into effect on Friday.