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Study could determine future of Idaho's residential solar rates

Six solar panels sit on a red-shingled roof of a house.
Michael Coghlan
Flickr Creative Commons

An upcoming study by Idaho Power could determine how much the utility will credit people who produce extra solar energy and send it back to the electric grid.

The Idaho Public Utility Commission gave Idaho Power the go-ahead to study net metering – specifically, the costs and benefits of extra energy produced by customers using their own solar panels.

“One of the core things being studied for the new program is whether there should be a difference between what you pay to consume and the value of that export from your roof,” said Ben Otto, an energy associate with the Idaho Conservation League.

People who already had rooftop panels before a 2019 PUC ruling are able to sell solar power back to the grid at the retail rate of electricity.

But Idaho Power has been fighting for this arrangement to change for recent and new customers. Communication Specialist Jordan Rodriguez argued those users aren’t paying their fair share of the utility’s maintenance and distribution costs.

“We are looking to make some updates to those policies to try to make it just a little more fair and balanced for all our customers,” he said.

The study, which Idaho Power hopes to conduct next year, will help the commission come up with a new plan for compensating solar producers. The board is taking comments on the study’s design through the end of this month.

The Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club commented that Idaho Power’s proposed framework to study the “environmental benefits” of solar energy production was vague.

It said in comparison, the study completed by the utility Rocky Mountain Power, which covers parts of eastern Idaho, took into account the value of solar “to local public health and safety from reduced local impacts of global warming such as reduced extreme temperatures, reduced snowpack variation, reduced wildfire risk, and other impacts.”

Similarly, Otto said the Idaho Conservation League would like the study to examine the benefits of producing energy locally, versus far away, and the benefits of producing clean versus “dirty” energy.

Some advocates have also called for the study to be completed by an independent third party; as of now, the PUC has instructed Idaho Power to conduct it.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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