Idaho PUC: Don't burn solar users

The panel shoots down Idaho Power's plan to raise the rates these customers pay.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comJuly 4, 2013 

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission was brusque in its response.

Idaho Power had proposed to raise the rate customers who generate small amounts of power pay, and to quadruple their fees to hook up to the power grid.

"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.

The three-member panel 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 their power needs.

"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.

Idaho Power said in a statement that its proposal was complex and it was pleased that the commission recognized the issues raised were valid. It argued it needed the changes to ensure that the increasing number of customers with rooftop solar units pay their share for transmission lines, billing and other fixed costs.

"We will move forward to work further with our customers and other stakeholders on this matter," said Stephanie McCurdy, an Idaho Power spokeswomen.

The plan affected customers who have solar or wind generation and create more electricity than they use - known as "net-metering customers." Most of these customers were unhappy with Idaho Power's plan to stop paying them at the end of the year for the power they generate and for not allowing their unused credits - for the power they add to the grid - to roll over at the end of the year.

The commission agreed to allow the utility to switch from payments to credits, but told Idaho Power to allow the credits to keep building as long as a net-metering customer remains at their current location.

Idaho Power had proposed doubling the 2.9 megawatt cap on the total amount of power that could come from those customers. But the PUC removed the cap, saying it "may disrupt and have a chilling effect" on net metering.

The commission also kept existing price and fees intact, acknowledging that 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 set in a general rate-case proceeding.

Critics say the proposal was 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: 377-6484

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