Across the Southeast, consumers are pushing back as utilities press for increases in the fixed fee on monthly electric bills.
Fixed fees hurt anyone who uses less electricity, such as customers with rooftop solar, or low-income customers who live in smaller housing units, or consumers who buy a more efficient air conditioner.
Customers with solar net metering “go away” if “you put a high cost” on all customers, whether they “take one kilowatt-hour or 1,000 per month,” advised Jacob Williams, general manager and CEO of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, in a speech last July to executives who operate municipal utilities across Florida (video at 35:20).
Low-income consumers get hit the worst by higher fixed fees. They generally “shoulder the highest percentage of rate increases” when fixed fees go up, because the additional burden falls hardest on low-consuming customers, and low-income customers are generally in that category, reasoned the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates in a 2015 resolution.
Thousands of citizens in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee have opposed utility attempts to increase fixed fees in recent months—many of them through campaigns organized by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
Georgia Power’s proposed rate hike would combine a higher fixed fee with higher per-kWh prices, a double whammy that would raise the bills of low-consuming customers more than 25%, as shown in this graphic from SACE:
SACE helped persuade hundreds of Georgia Power customers who opposed the rate increase to submit letters to Georgia regulators, while allied groups engaged thousands more customers, with many attending a public hearing or rally. Georgia regulators will decide the rate case on December 17.
After Duke Energy proposed to triple its fixed monthly fees, SACE and allies began organizing early this year and persuaded more than 1,000 customers who opposed the increase to attend one of five hearings across the state, which were convened by South Carolina regulators. Eleven hundred customers submitted written comments opposing the tripling of fixed fees.
“We largely defeated” the Duke proposal, said Bryan Jacob, solar program director for SACE, but Duke did get approval to increase the fixed monthly fee to $11.78 for Duke Energy Progress customers and $11.96 for Duke Energy Carolinas customers. Overall, Jacob considers utility attempts to increase fixed fees to be the biggest ongoing issue regarding distributed solar in the Southeast.
The Knoxville Utilities Board in Tennessee has raised the fixed fee on electric bills from $6 per month in 2010 to $20.50 per month now. SACE delivered over 3,000 customer signatures this year asking the utility to “freeze the fees,” and collected hundreds of stories from customers facing an energy burden. The utility in its most recently announced plans did not include a fixed fee increase, which SACE says in a post is a hopeful sign, but adds it will remain watchful.
In Florida, the state’s municipal utilities will decide whether to follow their wholesale electricity provider’s advice to make customers with solar “go away” by imposing “a high cost.” Vote Solar has reached out to its supporters who are served by those municipal utilities, and asked them to express their concerns to the wholesale provider’s board chairperson, said Katie Ottenweller, Southeast director with Vote Solar. This challenging situation in Florida appears to be still in its early stages.
Another tool in the box
One way to think of fixed fees is that if your electric bill had only a fixed fee, and no per-kWh charge, after you paid the high fixed fee the electricity you used would be free, and there would be no financial incentive to use rooftop solar or reduce your electricity consumption. The further a utility moves in raising the fixed fee, the worse the fixed fee is for rooftop solar and efficient use of electricity.
Fixed fees are one more way that utilities can block solar, in addition to hijinks in modeling utility integrated resource plans (as in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Montana, and Puerto Rico), and paltry compensation for rooftop solar, as planned in Tennessee.
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The State of South Carolina already has a utility with a huge monthly solar fee of $4.40 per kW on the roof…Santee Cooper. And, they only pay about $.04 for every kWh sold back. One more disturbing fact…they are the only utility in the State that is actually a State Agency. They are one of the worst utilities in the country regarding rooftop solar and they try to mask it with a small purchase incentive. Very sad!
Interesting, how is the solar PV contract worded when one installs a solar PV system? Let’s say you put in solar PV and even some energy storage and you run it to a C.B. panel split to a secondary panel C.B. panel with a break before make transfer switch between house and secondary C.B. panels. Now the solar PV system with energy storage is used on the secondary circuit breaker panel to power some lights, ceiling fans and receptacles like the refrigerator/freezer, a micro-wave and some receptacles around the house. The solar PV is not “co-mingled” with the utility and you depend on it to run the secondary electrical panel all of the time. So, it is never a “grid tied” solar PV system. You use all of the power your “off grid” system generates and if this system fails, you manually switch over the transfer switch and power both panels off of utility power. Just sayin’ make a 2,000 square foot house look like a 500 square foot house. IF you have many winter storms that take down power lines regularly, it might be to your long term benefit to have your own backup power online 24/7.
Our local utility has fixed line fees of $500 a year + billing / meter fees and misc charges that add another $200
We pay transmission / distribution fees of 11.5 cents on top of the electricity price.
At ‘net zero’ our power bill is now going to average $1300 a year (an $1800 savings for a $33,000 investment)
I suppose it must cost near that $1300 to operate the utility, and it’s still less than the cost of a home battery + micro CHP heat + power system. But not by much.
“Customers with solar net metering “go away” if “you put a high cost” on all customers, whether they “take one kilowatt-hour or 1,000 per month,” advised Jacob Williams, general manager and CEO of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, in a speech last July to executives who operate municipal utilities across Florida.”
This over paid Electric utility mouth piece is admonishing those who pay it forward and use the solar PV technology and perhaps energy storage to protect themselves from the power company he represents.
He pontificates on the “costs” to “other ratepayers” and wants net metering to go away from those who bought into solar PV on their homes. What HE doesn’t talk about is the “avoided costs” to the utility that aren’t passed on to the non-solar PV ratepayers. The utility doesn’t have to pay for property, float bonds, get loans, purchase, install, maintain, or insure the solar PV system. This cost “avoidance” DOES have worth the utility denies, while it cries for rate increases due to “lost revenues”. Jacob Williams, should be held accountable for the usury of the non-solar ratepayers. If you have a neighbor that has solar PV and that neighbor generates excess power that is pushed back onto the grid, you get the benefit of distributed power, produced with (no fuel) and is transmitted to you over maybe 75 feet of copper wire. For solar PV power being used in your home, you should have the TD&D charges removed from every solar PV kWh you use and most certainly the “fuel” charges removed from every kWh of solar PV you use.
All true, but paying grid fees is still less expensive than buying your own big battery.
Unless that battery does other things, like run your sump pump, fridge, and a TV during a power outage. They’re $10,000 each plus $5,000 for installation.
I live in rural western Minn. I have had a wind turbine for 12 years and solar panels for 2. I am on a rural electric coop, and they are not regulated by the state Board. I pay a monthly fee of $33 for line access, the same as all other members that get electricity. I pay an additional monthly fee of $44 because I am a distributed power producer, so my ‘break even’ point each month is over $77 worth of power that I have to provide to the coop, all at just over $.11 cents per kwh. Yes, we have net metering, but I am still looking to get a big battery or two and tell the coop to go pound sand. And I don’t really care when or if there will be a pay back point. I am a member of a rural electric coop and all they care about is keeping the coal plants in business.
We had 11 days in December with zero solar power, 25 kwh today now that a chinook wind cleared the panels. Without grid backup we would freeze.
By all meams oversize your system snd put in a battery if that makes sense. I can’t justify it here. But a microCHP system might get us through winter nights with minimal grid power use and effectively 100% conversion efficiency trom natural gas.
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