Idaho PUC sets schedule for solar, wind metering hearings

By Rocky Barker – The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has received hundreds of comments on an Idaho Power Co. proposal to double net metering program that allows customers with solar panels to send power back into the grid.

Now the PUC has developed a timeline on processing the case, beginning with a public workshop on April 25,customer and technical hearings tentatively set for the week of June 10 and a target decision date of July 1.

Idaho Power is proposing to double the capacity limit on the amount of energy that can be generated from its net metering customers from 2.9 megawatts to 5.8. It also wants to stop writing checks to solar and wind customers for surplus power at the end of a year. The investor-owned utility also wants to increase the rate solar and wind users pay for the power they get from Idaho Power and quadruple the fees they pay to hook up to the grid.
Idaho Power officials say the added charges are needed to ensure that its other customers aren’t subsidizing the solar-generating customers. Idaho Power said the increased costs and the taking of credits left over at the end of the year is an issue of fairness for other customers because the solar customers are not paying the full costs of the utility’s fixed costs, like power lines.

Solar customers say the changes proposed by Idaho Power will make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to recoup their investment in solar panels. Idaho Power claims the net effect on customers will vary depending on how they use and generate energy. Some customers will be paid more than they currently receive, while others will get less, the company claims.

The Idaho Conservation League, is one of the intervenors in the case. Ben Otto, its energy specialist, said Idaho Power should not place hurdles to home systems by requiring onerous interconnections and he also opposes a cap on net metering.
“Idaho Power does not cap other power plants, like gas plants,” Otto said.

The utility also should credit the surplus power people produce and pay more for what is very valuable power since it is delivered during periods of peak demand.

“We will establish that using the normal retail rates to bill for consumption and credit for generation is simple, offers net meterers a fair deal, and provides overall benefits to other ratepayers,” he said.  Other intervenors include the City of Boise, Idaho Clean Energy Association, Pioneer Power LLC, Powerworks LLC and the Snake River Alliance.