We really want to have a robust and transparent analysis that fully evaluates all the benefits that solar brings to Utah, as well as the costs. —Sarah Wright, Utah Clean Energy
SALT LAKE CITY — The Public Service Commission is going to launch a study to determine a full range of costs and benefits if Rocky Mountain Power were to charge a net metering fee for residents who are also plugged into rooftop solar systems.
Before it embarks on that study, the utility company, solar power advocates and a host of others get to weigh in on what types of costs and benefits are examined as part of that analysis.
In a meeting Monday at the Public Service Commission offices, groups such as Utah Clean Energy, Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, the utility company and Utah Office of Consumer Services mapped out of tentative schedule for the process that will unfold before the commission in the coming months.
"We really want to have a robust and transparent analysis that fully evaluates all the benefits that solar brings to Utah, as well as the costs," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.
At issue is an order issued in late August by the commission that rejected an initial attempt by PacifiCorp to charge an extra monthly fee of $4.65 a month to solar customers for what the utility company said was to help cover its fixed costs of delivering energy to households.
Critics of the controversial proposal called it a "sun tax" and asserted it would discourage the transition to clean energy.
In its ruling rejecting the fee, the commission said it could not justify the fee without further analysis, directing instead that a "better course" would be for the utility company and other parties to gather and analyze information on the fee and present those results and recommendations in future hearings.
Net metering allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from the grid from on-site generation to pay for only the "net" energy they obtain from the utility.
Alternatively, if the customer's system generates excess electricity, it is exported to the grid. The customer then gets a credit for those kilowatt hours of generated electricity — much like rollover minutes accumulate on a cellphone bill that can be used to cushion averages in the future.
The fee would have impacted 2,500 households in Utah.
Solar advocates want any decision on an imposition of a net metering fee to take into account the "offsets" that come when residential households are plugged into renewable energy that is absent of carbon emissions and the corresponding health impacts, as well as other considerations.
Conversely, the utility company wants to make sure its costs of still having to have infrastructure in place such as substations and lines are appropriately part of the analysis, as well as what shifted costs might be to non-solar customers.
PacifiCorp is already engaged in a "load study" in which energy consumption and output is being examined for 62 solar sites.
The commission is slated to make a decision on the type of study in late fall, with hearings now scheduled for Oct. 6-8 to take testimony.
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