Idaho is stuck in residential solar limbo

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State regulators have rejected Idaho Power’s proposal to decrease the residential solar net metering rate by 50%, a small victory for distributed solar proponents who now face another, unanticipated battle.

The new battle stems from the Idaho Public Service Commission’s (PSC) previously mentioned rejection. That decision deemed that the eligibility date for residential solar customers to receive the legacy rates ended on the same day that the decision was made, December 20, 2019.

This is an issue because until the new rates are decided by the PSC, new residential solar customers in Idaho will not be credited for their generation. This has essentially put the state’s already modest residential solar market on hold.

“They have created a situation with considerable uncertainty for a customer that wants to go solar… I wouldn’t know what to tell a customer. it’s a pretty big burden on families and small businesses who are trying to make an assessment on solar for themselves,” said Briana Kobor of Vote Solar.

The Idaho Conservation League and Vote Solar have submitted a petition to the PSC for the legacy rate treatment to be extended to any new customers with a system installed before the new rates are instituted.

In the petition, the groups explain the predicament that could arise from the oversight.

“Our concern is that closing eligibility for Schedules 6 and 8 as of December 20, 2019, without having a successor program in place, does not allow customers to know the facts of what structures and rates will be at the time they make a decision whether to invest in distributed generation. That creates untenable uncertainty for customers [who] cannot make any informed projections by which to design a system. All they know is that the ultimate program will likely not reflect either the current net metering program or the rejected settlement agreement.”

While an entire distributed solar market stuck in purgatory would be catastrophic in most any other place in the country, Idaho has just 52 MW of residential solar installed to-date. That’s not to imply that a market pause is a good thing, but as Briana Kobor shared with pv magazine, residential solar adoption is driven in a major way by strong net-metering policy.

While it may look dismal for the moment, if the rate decided upon leads to greater adoption, it could be argued that weathering a market pause in order to get the policy right was the correct move.

On the same day that Vote Solar and ICL introduced their petition, Idaho Power Company asked the Commission to overturn their own decision, or, as an alternative, to move ahead with some of the settlement’s proposed changes to the net metering program. In particular, if the Commission maintains its decision, Idaho Power still wants a single term in the settlement to be implemented, changing from a monthly to an hourly calculation in the way customers with solar are billed.

This request by Idaho Power has been met with opposition from the state’s residential solar proponents.

“We are disappointed Idaho Power continues to undermine Idahoans who invest their own money in solar power electricity systems,” said Ben Otto of ICL. “Rather, we look forward to working with the Commission to create a robust, transparent and inclusive process to create a fair and stable solar policy for the future.”