Rocky Mountain Power, other parties defend plan to raise Utah power bills to pay for solar power
Utility says it could walk away from settlement, if state regulators seek to change its carefully negotiated deal with solar advocates.
State regulators have the future of Utah’s solar power industry in their hands — and, possibly, the future of your household electric bill — after a brief Monday hearing.
In public testimony early Monday, a representative of Rocky Mountain Power warned it could walk away from a long-sought settlement some believe could save the state’s growing solar industry — if the Public Service Commission changed key terms of the agreement.
“Adopting any of the proposed modifications would compromise the integrity of the [settlement], and the diligent effort of the signing parties to reach this agreement,” said Joelle Steward, the company’s director of rates and regulatory affairs.
She urged the commission to accept the proposal without changes. The meeting adjourned after just 90 minutes of discussion to allow the Public Service Commission to deliberate.
Commission chairman Thad LeVar said he recognized the significant effort that went into crafting the settlement, but also acknowledged concerns with specific terms of the deal. The commission, LeVar said, would decide in a “reasonable” amount of time whether Rocky Mountain Power will be allowed to implement the agreement.
Solar industry leaders, environmental advocates, and key state agencies worked for nine months to develop a mutually agreeable alternative to the utility’s original proposal. That plan, unveiled last fall, would have created a controversial three-part rate structure for residences with rooftop solar, and had the potential to substantially increase some customers’ monthly bills.
Instead, the current settlement proposes to close Rocky Mountain Power’s net metering program come November, making new customers ineligible for a previous system of reimbursements for excess power generated by rooftop solar panels.
In that program’s place, Utah’s largest electric utility — which says it overpays for the surplus power compared to market rates — wants to create a new system of fixed-rate credits for future solar customers, paid for with cash it raises from adding small surcharges to Utah customers’ electric bills.
Those charges would pass through the company’s Energy Balancing Account, which regulators typically let Rocky Mountain Power use to recover unexpected costs, such as increases in fuel for its power plants, without raising base electric rates.
But in testimony on Monday, opponents of the deal argued to regulators that permitting those charges through the Energy Balancing Account could generate millions of dollars of additional cash for Rocky Mountain Power when there is no proof the utility needs the revenue to cover costs.
Western Resource Advocates, an environmental advocacy group, is one of three organizations openly opposing the solar settlement, along with the Utah Association of Energy Users, representing commercial electric customers, and Vote Solar, a clean-energy advocacy group.