State of Utah solar: Installations take a dip while industry adjusts to net metering change
Rooftop solar seems to have lost some of its shine in Utah, but industry and clean air advocates say the alternative energy source still has a bright future.
Electricity provider Rocky Mountain Power filed its most recent net metering report with the Public Service Commission in July, which indicates some of the changes facing the industry. To date, the utility counts more than 30,000 solar customers. New rooftop solar installations are down by about 23 percent compared to the year before.
Those in the industry say some of the volatility came from Rocky Mountain Power’s phase-out of net-metering, which went into effect last November.
“We have definitely seen some attrition in the industry,” said Ryan Evans with the Utah Solar Energy Association. “However, I think most Utah companies were able to handle the changes.”
With net metering, the power provider paid solar customers the market rate for their excess energy sent to the grid. Solar customers used those credits to offset their bill when the sun wasn’t shining.
Rocky Mountain Power argued net metering caused costs to pile on that were passed on to non-solar customers. After striking a deal with groups like Utah Clean Energy and the Utah Office of Consumer Services, the way the utility compensates its solar customers has changed.
New solar customers are now in a transition mode until 2020 while the utility and its watchdogs decide how to better manage Utah’s solar surge. Transition customers are being paid slightly less than market rates for their solar, rates that are grandfathered until 2033.
Those who had solar installed before November are also grandfathered at their net metering market rates until 2035.
Rocky Mountain Power reported 9,372 customers installed new solar arrays in 2017-2018, just before net metering ended.
Another 212 households and businesses installed solar between November and March, becoming the first round of solar transition customers.
By comparison, the utility counted 12,408 new rooftop solar installations the year before.
Evans said after a few years of massive growth, the solar industry is starting to level off.
“The low-hanging fruit is already taken. Those people interested in solar, if they’d been looking, they went for it in 2016” before net-metering phased out, Evans said.
That leveling off combined with the Trump administration’s tariffs on solar panels have hit some companies hard, he added, but most solar installers have been able to adjust.