SALT LAKE CITY — The three-member Public Service Commission is weighing a proposed agreement on rooftop solar between Rocky Mountain Power and a consortium of diverse groups, including the Utah Solar Energy Association, state Office of Consumer Services and top solar companies.
Commission members heard testimony and had a chance to ask questions during a Monday hearing, which also included comments from Western Resource Advocates and other opponents of the agreement. The deal was reached in August after years of negotiation.
The commission agreed to take the matter under advisement and said it would issue a decision within a "reasonable" amount of time.
Under the proposal, current net-metering customers will be grandfathered into the existing system through Dec. 31, 2035, and credits for energy generated from rooftop solar will remain unaltered.
The same fee structure would apply to Rocky Mountain Power customers who have submitted a completed interconnection application to the utility company before the net metering "cap date" — Nov. 15.
Rooftop solar energy generators who come onto the utility system after that date would fall under the umbrella of a transition period to Dec. 31, 2032, and would receive "export credit" compensation of 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour or 9.4 cents an hour if lawmakers fail to extend the $1,600 state tax credit through 2020.
That transition period would last until a new rate is determined in a mandatory export case that will come before the commission no later than three years after Rocky Mountain Power initiates the action.
"As with any settlement agreement, the proposal before the commission represents compromise from all parties," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.
Wright emphasized her advocacy organization sought to ensure rooftop solar remains a viable option for Rocky Mountain Power customers and that any transition period offers a predictable amount of certainty for future generators.
"The existing grandfathering period is consistent with what has been done around the country," she said.
Michele Beck, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Services, told the commissioners the agreement strikes a reasonable balance by acknowledging the current net-metering program needs to be changed, but offers a path toward a "rational" rate plan for the future.
Beck has long argued that net metering as now constructed unfairly hoists costs on the wallets of non-solar generators and those who can't afford rooftop solar because the cost of the grid isn't captured in utility bills.
That, too, was the complaint of taxpayer advocate Clair Geddes, who during a break panned the agreement.
"It's horrible," Geddes said, adding that the agreement does nothing but prolong the subsidy to solar generators.
But Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association, said the agreement protects the industry "in the short and near term," which many feared would be left with dramatic declines — if not chased out of the state altogether — under a previous rate change proposal by Rocky Mountain Power.
Joelle Steward, the utility company's director of rates and regulatory affairs, said the agreement reflects an effort to prevent abrupt changes that would negatively affect solar generators, while at the same time putting a "cap" on runaway adoption of rooftop solar by setting generating limits.
Critics such as Western Resource Advocates argued against the agreement's provision that energy costs to transition customers will be measured in 15-minute intervals and the ambiguity of the generation cap.
Steward said she found it "rather ridiculous" that the 15-minute intervals would create billing confusion for customers and said other arguments made by the organization should be rejected as "speculation with no reasonable evidence of support."
But Stephen Michel with Western Resource Advocates argued that the agreement's provisions are fraught with uncertainty because the end of the transition period comes with a timeframe dependent on generation caps and the conclusion of a separate hearing before the commission.
Steward argued against adopting any of the changes recommended by critics that filed testimony, saying it would jeopardize the integrity of the agreement.
"I cannot stress enough how hard it was to reach this agreement," she said. "The stipulation provides that any party may withdraw from the stipulation if there is any material change."
The trio of critical groups were not party to the agreement.