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Idaho Public Utilities Commission to hold hearings this week on net metering

Two men in orange work uniforms and hard hats lay a solar panel on a waved roof.
Matt York
/
AP
In this July 28, 2015, photo, electricians Adam Hall, right, and Steven Gabert, install solar panels on a roof for Arizona Public Service company in Goodyear, Ariz. Traditional power companies are getting into small-scale solar energy and competing for space. The emerging competition comes as utilities and smaller solar installers fight over the future of the U.S. energy system.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is holding public hearings this week on a study that could determine the future of rooftop solar in the state.

The Commission asked Idaho Power to do the study about three years ago, to establish a "fair and equitable" net metering program — where customers who generate their own solar power, often on their roof or property, can get paid for the excess energy they send back to the grid.

For years, Idaho Power has argued the current market rates aren't fair because they don't take into account the utility's maintenance and distribution costs. Idaho Power also says they pay the solar-generating customers at the expense of customers without solar, according to Jordan Rodriguez, a corporate communications specialist at Idaho Power.

A few years ago, the utility proposed cutting the credits those net metering customers receive, but the Public Utility Commission rejected the plan because it said it didn't include enough public input. It sent Idaho Power back to the drawing board to propose a study to determine how it would set new rates.

Idaho Power released that study in June and now the Commission is holding three public hearings to gather feedback on it. Twenty-eight people spoke at one in Pocatello last week. Two more hearings are scheduled for this week:

  • Weds., Nov. 2, from 6-9 p.m. at the Vera C. O’Leary Middle School in Twin Falls. People may also listen to the testimony virtually by calling 1-415-655-0001 and entering meeting number 2455 251 2587.
  • Thurs., Nov. 3, from 6-9 p.m. at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission in Boise. People may also listen to the testimony virtually by calling 1-415-655-0001 and enter meeting number 2454 163 5014.

Virtual comments can be sent through Friday, Nov. 4 at this link: https://puc.idaho.gov/Form/CaseComment and by entering case number "IPC-E-22-22."

The Public Utilities Commission will decide, potentially by the end of the year, whether to approve Idaho Power's study. After that, more public comment opportunities will be available when Idaho Power goes through the process of determining the new export credit rates.

While the new rates won't be final until that point, Idaho Power's study released in June indicates it will likely propose reducing the current credit of 8-10 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy returned to the grid to between roughly 2.8-4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

"Those economic, financial benefits month-to-month for customers would be much less, and it would make it much less attractive to even make the investment in the first place," said Lisa Young, the director of the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, plus other organizations like the Idaho Conservation League, commissioned an independent review of Idaho Power's study by consultants at Crossborder Energy.

It found Idaho Power was undervaluing the benefits of customer-generated solar because it didn't take into account, for example, how it helps avoid costs of building more energy infrastructure as well as environmental costs.

“These environmental benefits are real, they’re quantifiable, they impact rates, and they should be included in the study," Young said.

Idaho Power has largely rejected the findings in that report because it said among other things, the Commission directed it just to look at the costs and benefits of factors that are included in customer rates today.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.