Utah PSC grants utility’s request to suspend solar rate-increase request

A solar farm in St. George, Utah.

The Utah Public Service Commission (PSC) has suspended Rocky Mountain Power’s (RMP) request to increase fees on solar net-metered electricity at the utility’s behest.

Last Friday, RMP hand-delivered a letter to the PSC saying that it was in negotiation with several solar stakeholders to resolve the solar-specific-charge issue but that “disparate views” among those stakeholders would require more time to resolve.

Given that the rate increases were scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 10, the utility asked that the PSC to suspend the requested increase while negotiations continued. The PSC immediately granted the request hours before the deadline.

As pv magazine reported last week, RMP had proposed a three-part rate for residential net-metered solar 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.

Utility increases of fixed charges are controversial in that they reduce the incentive for energy efficiency and conservation, as well as undermining the economics of customer-sited solar PV. The last few quarters have seen utilities across the United States attempt to increase fixed charges, however utilities usually do not get all that they want.

The public backlash on RMP’s proposal was swift and voluminous, as public documents on the PSC’s website show. Even Robert Redford, well-known actor and solar proponent since 1975, weighed in with a column for Time.

In it, he argued Utah’s solar users are being unfairly targeted by utilities anxious to protect their profits. While RMP insisted in its letter to the PSC that most of the objections “are based on an incorrect understanding of the applicability and implementation” of the tariffs, it says it’s seeking a joint stipulation with the stakeholders to move the matter forward.

If RMP can negotiate a compromise, it would be the third such compromise this month. Earlier this week, Georgia Power and Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) issued a joint recommendation on how to evaluate solar’s value to the grid, which will inform how the utility handles solar customers in future rate cases.

In Oklahoma, a tentative agreement between Oklahoma Gas & Electric and consumer advocates — pending public service commission approval — would protect solar customers from arbitrary charges levied by the utility.