Public Service Commission nixes proposed fee for solar power users in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It was a victory for renewable energy advocates Friday. Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to impose a monthly tax on Utahns who use solar.

"Psychologically, people hear $4.65 a month, it doesn't sound like that much, but in Arizona it had a tremendous difference in the number of solar installations," said Jim French, who generates electricity from the solar panels on his roof.

He said charging customers a monthly tax for renewable energy is not only unfair, but is also a detriment to Utah businesses.

Rocky Mountain Power doesn't see it that way. They argue the opposite.

"Our proposal was for a 4.65 monthly charge for those who generate their own power and the reason was to make it fair to all customers," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for RMP.

The battle between both sides came to a close when the Public Service Commission nixed the proposal.

"We are thrilled that the Public Service Commission chose to reject Rocky Mountain Power's rooftop solar," says Matt Pacenza, Policy Director for Heal Utah.

“Today was fabulous. It was a victory for the sun," French said.

That victory, however, may be short-lived.

"I know that it's not over," French said.

The commission wants to revisit the issue, but only if RMP can prove why customers who use solar panels should pay up for a service they don't use.

"We think that further studies will confirm what we already know, and that is: Customers who generate their own power are not paying the fair amount for the fixed cost as their neighbors," Murphy said.

"It's pretty clear that Utahns by and large want a transition toward clean and renewable energy," Pacenza said.

The contention is a signal the fight is far from over.

"Rocky Mountain Power is very dependent on burning fossil fuels, coal and natural gas,” French said. “I feel they see the day coming when more and more people are going to have solar panels. They see it as a threat to their bottom line.”

Rocky Mountain Power said it's all about being fair, arguing customers aren't paying their fair share. Renewable Energy Advocates completely disagree.

The Commission also approved a rate increase of $1.76 a month for regular RMP customers. Another rate increase of 73 cents a month is slated for September 2015. Overall, it's a 1.9 percent rate increase, which translates to $35 million in profits for the company in the next year alone.

5 comments

  • Viking ZX

    “We think that further studies will confirm what we already know, and that is: Customers who generate their own power are not paying the fair amount for the fixed cost as their neighbors,”

    Well no DUH Einstein! That’s kind of how it works! If I use less power, I pay less for power! Holy FRICK! What a revelation!

    Hey, I’ve got a new idea for a tax for you! It’s a tax on people who TURN OFF THEIR LIGHTS! Imagine! Those people are paying less for electricity because they’re using less, and therefore NOT GIVING YOU MONEY! This clearly is unnacceptable and un-American! We need to tax those who don’t use as many lights! Curse them and their mysterious reliance on the ancient, burning evil that dwells in the sky to see!

  • Pwhynot

    It seems pretty brazen to ask for money when no service is being provided! Should I pay taxes on ciggerettes since I don’t smoke? Taxes on gas if I ride a bike? Ah…. NO! RMP is looking for handouts.

  • Ray Boggs

    Why lock yourself into an airtight, 20 year lease or PPA contract for thick, 1970’s style, aluminum framed solar panels that may have a negative impact on your home’s value in a few years, when you can own, next generation, Hyper X 2, higher performance, aesthetically pleasing, frameless, 1/4 inch thin, see through solar panels for less than 1/2 the cost of a solar lease? http://vimeo.com/104779480

  • Norm Frey

    ALL of these solar homeowners are using the electrical grid when there is no solar, but because they get paid at “retail rates” for the excess they make during the day, they end up not paying a monthly bill. So their non-solar neighbors pay more to support the power plants and the grid. To be fair, solar homeowners should be paid wholesale rates for their excess power, just like all the generating stations that sell power to the electric company. If “you” want the electric company to have power ready for you 24 hours a day, SOMEBODY has to pay to keep the equipment available and working. If everyone only went to McDonalds once a year, they’d go out of business, they couldn’t keep the store ready all day every day for you to stop in just once.

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