Guest Opinions

The future is shining bright for Idaho’s rooftop solar industry, customers

Washington state has had about 20,000 solar systems — including community, commercial and residential systems — covered by the original and new solar incentive programs since 2005.
Washington state has had about 20,000 solar systems — including community, commercial and residential systems — covered by the original and new solar incentive programs since 2005. AP

Solar is the future of energy production in Idaho. Many people don’t realize that most of Idaho gets just as much sunshine annually as Florida, the Sunshine State. Idahoans are increasingly harnessing this energy resource by installing solar on their homes and businesses. In fact, Idaho Power forecasts residential customers who generate their own power will more than triple over the next five years. Gov. Butch Otter recently touted Idaho’s reliable and renewable energy as a key attraction for new business.

The ability to generate your own power on your own property to cut down your utility bill is powerful. Solar works for people from all walks of life and fits many of the values and needs of Idaho families and businesses. Solar saves money, gives people more independence, and helps them to be more self-reliant. Reflecting these Idahoan values, our official Idaho State Energy Plan says: “It is Idaho policy to encourage investment in customer-owned generation … such as wind, solar, or micro-hydro.”

To enable Idahoans to choose their own energy options, and enact state policy, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must ensure fair rules and rates between utilities and solar customers. Recently, the PUC took a step in this direction.

Responding to an Idaho Power proposal, the PUC separated net-metered customers — those who own their own power source such as solar — into their own customer class. Then the PUC ordered all stakeholders to conduct a “thorough, data-driven evaluation” of the costs and benefits of customer-owned generation, which includes solar, before making any changes to the current rates.

The Idaho Clean Energy Association supports this and is encouraged that the PUC acknowledged the study may demonstrate that solar, along with other types of customer-owned power, provides more benefits than costs to the system overall. This study could lead to rates which more closely align to the costs and benefits associated with customers who have solar.

So how does this affect folks considering rooftop solar? In the near term, it doesn’t at all — the PUC confirmed that the order “does not change rates, rate design, or the current compensation credit structure” for solar or for any type of on-site generation. The sooner one installs a solar system, the longer one has to benefit from converting that great Idaho sunshine into energy savings. Utility rates for all Idaho Power customers, including solar customers, will continue to be subject to change over time. However, the PUC added: “We can also assure Idaho Power’s customers that discriminatory rates will not follow from the outcome of this case.” They continued by saying that “on-site generation is an inevitable part” of the utility’s future resource portfolio.

The Idaho Clean Energy Association looks forward to working with all Idahoans to ensure fair treatment for Idaho’s local, reliable, and abundant clean energy resources, and believes that this cost-benefit study will further prove that solar makes sense as a compelling energy alternative of the future.

Elias Bishop sits on the board of directors for the Idaho Clean Energy Association.

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