Rocky Mountain Power’s 2020 Proposed Net Metering Changes

Solar Legislation
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Rocky Mountain Power's Proposed 2020 Net Metering Changes

In 2017, Rocky Mountain Power proposed a net metering rate for solar customers that would have made solar unfavorable to homeowners. To make sure a rate change is fair, the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Utah implemented a transition rate and solar generation study instead. 

This new rate decreased customer compensation for excess generated solar power from 100 to 90 percent of what the utility charges. This transition rate, however, is only a placeholder until the commission can look at the results of the study. 

After the Public Service Commission of Utah completes the Excess Compensation Docket for rooftop solar at the end of 2020, a post-transitional rate will take the transitional program’s place. Anyone who purchases solar after the approval of the new rate will become subject to it.

The Potential Impact of Rocky Mountain Power’s Proposed Changes

In preparation for this imminent change, Rocky Mountain Power filed a docket with the Public Service Commission on Feb. 3, 2020. This docket proposes that the worth of customer-generated solar equals about one-fourth of the current compensation rate.

Rocky Mountain Power claims its proposed changes are fair to everyone. The utility believes the proposed changes will make up the difference for the cost of the energy the solar generating customer pulls off the grid while compensating them for the excess solar energy they export onto it. 

Rocky Mountain Power has proposed a net billing tariff and different solar connection fees. Let’s take a deep dive into these changes and how they would potentially impact Utah solar-generating customers.

The Proposed Solar Generation Rate

The most significant suggestion from this docket includes compensation for excess solar generation. Currently solar homes without battery backup export between 20 and 40 percent of the energy they produce. 

Under the transitional program, the rate the utility pays customers for exported power equals 9.2000¢ per kWh. These customers then pay for the energy they pulled off the grid, which averages out to a difference of 10 percent per watt generated. 

If implemented, the suggested post-transition rate for solar generation put onto the grid would decrease to an average of 1.526¢ per kWh. This new rate changes who pays a smaller difference. 

Two New Solar Connection Fees

Rocky Mountain Power already charges a one-time application fee and meter fee to customers considering solar. While these are customer fees, the solar company completing the paperwork and installation often covers them.

The docket filed by Rocky Mountain Power proposed a change to the amounts it charges. Being aware of these proposed changes is good to know regardless of whether the customer or solar company pays for it because it will still impact solar.

Interconnection Fee

To interconnect to the grid, customers first have to fill out and submit a non-refundable interconnection request application. Currently, in schedule 136, this fee depends on the level of the customer. 

This fee ranges anywhere from $60 to $150 per application. Customers with larger systems also have additional fees for each kWh. 

The suggested interconnection fee equals $150 for every application. The docket, however, doesn’t state whether this fee would still increase if a proposed system is above a specified size or if this is a standard fee for residential systems. 

Meter Fee

The current net meter fee equals $200 for each net meter solar generating customers install. The docket proposes this fee change to $160 per meter. For the average customer, both the meter and application fee would change from about $260 to $310, equaling a $50 increase from the current fee structure. While cumbersome for the solar installer, this proposed change isn’t likely to make a difference in the price of solar arrays.

When Utah’s Transitional Program Ends

The exact decision date isn’t certain. However, the hearing started on September 29th and will continue through October 9th. Regardless of the decision of Utah’s PSC, 2021 will usher in solar-metering changes for Utahns.

The Game Plan for Continued Solar Growth in Utah

The solar industry knows of the possible impact of the proposed changes by Rocky Mountain Power. If not handled correctly, the Utah solar market could plummet. However, this doesn’t need to be the case.

There is hope for future and current residential solar customers. To help residential solar continue as a viable option in Utah, the industry has done a couple of things. First, it is encouraging qualified homeowners ready to get solar now to act. Secondly, it is working on a solar storage policy to help solar continue as a viable option for Utah’s homeowners regardless of metering policy.

Encouraging Qualified Utahns to Get Solar Now

Qualified Utah homeowners have the potential to decrease their electricity bills today. Because of the way solar panels work, solar homes need energy storage or connection to the grid. The transitional program’s net metering rates allow homeowners who export solar energy onto the grid to have 90 percent of that power credited toward times when the home draws power from the grid. 

Homeowners who take advantage of residential solar before the post-transitional program comes into place have fixed rates until 2033. Equaling 13 years of 90 percent payback on each exported kWh. 

Typically solar panels last over 25 years, but homeowners often pay off solar loans within 5 to 20 years. Meaning you could have your solar array paid off by the time a new metering policy is in place, which would leave room in the budget to invest in a home battery and eliminate or mitigate dependence on the grid

Utah Solar Storage Policy

The price of solar storage, particularly home batteries, has steadily declined over the years. Today, more individuals can afford home batteries with their installations. However, it’s still out of reach for many homeowners. 

While providing emergency battery backup options for these individuals helps prepare them for grid failure, it doesn’t meet all the homeowner’s energy needs. To make home batteries more affordable, solar proponents advanced Senate Bill 111 in the 2019 legislative session. While the bill was cut at the last second from Utah’s state budget, it passed on the first introduction of the storage bill, which means it’s likely to make it into Utah’s budget in the 2020 session. 

If passed, this bill would provide a grant for energy storage research. The resulting discoveries from this funded research would promote a continued decrease in solar storage prices, further decreasing homeowner’s dependence on the grid.

Utahn’s Part in Keeping Residential Solar Alive

While solar advocates are doing everything in their power to make sure residential solar remains a sound economical option, Utah’s solar policy depends on the people. If Utah’s officials see that their residents care about solar and show how it’s impacting their lives, it will hold far more weight. 

An example of the power that people have in influencing solar legislation occurred in Nevada. In 2015, the state’s booming solar industry was shut down in its tracks by an anti-solar policy. However, after Nevadans showed politicians that they valued residential solar, the state changed these policies. For solar policy in Utah to continue to stay favorable, Utahns need to show they care.

Want to Go Solar in Utah? Do Something About It

There are many reasons why those who care about solar may not have it right now. These individuals can make their voices heard by reaching out to decision-makers. If residential solar is a possibility for you, it’s best to do your due diligence and get it now. Installing an array now will ensure that your home has the current rate. 

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