The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has rejected a proposed settlement agreement that would have changed how Idaho Power Co. customers with solar panels on their homes or small businesses are credited for the power they produce and put into the grid.

The proposed agreement—reached in October among Idaho Power, PUC staff and seven other entities—involves net metering, which records the amount of power produced by the home power producer relative to the amount the home consumes.

In an order issued in May 2018, the PUC stated that the current payment method causes home power producers to underpay their share of Idaho Power’s fixed costs, and that the inequity will likely increase as more customers install solar power.

According to the recent order, under Idaho Power’s current program, net excess energy is compensated with a credit that values energy consumed equal to the solar energy produced. Under the new agreement, the solar credit would have fluctuated at about half the cost of buying electricity from Idaho Power.

The agreement would also have allowed Idaho Power to change its method of crediting power from home solar producers from one in which production and consumption data are recorded monthly to one in which they are recorded hourly. Idaho Power spokesman Jordan Rodriguez said in an interview that the hourly method would more accurately compute the costs of providing power, and its financial impacts would differ from customer to customer depending on use patterns.

In a brief submitted to the commission in November, the Idaho Conservation League and Vote Solar, a national nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif., argued that the proposed pricing methods would be unfair to existing customers, who figured the current prices into their decisions to install solar power. The proposed agreement did not resolve the issue of whether the change would apply to existing as well as future customers. Rather, it set a deadline of Nov. 13 for both sides to submit briefs addressing the issue.

However, in its Dec. 20 order, the commission rejected the settlement agreement entirely, finding that the record created from the settlement proceedings was insufficient to support it. The commission also found that the public was not adequately notified that the agreement might result in significant changes to Idaho Power’s net metering program.

The commission ordered that prices for existing customers be grandfathered in, and directed Idaho Power to conduct a study of the costs and benefits of customer-produced solar power distributed to its system as a basis for setting rates for future customers with solar generation before it submits any further proposals to change its net-metering program. It ordered that the study incorporate public feedback on the design of the study, including public workshops and public comments on the record. Another requirement is that “the study must be written so it is understandable to an average customer, but its analysis must be able to withstand expert scrutiny.”

“We applaud the commission standing up for existing solar owners,” said Ben Otto of the Idaho Conservation League. “We look forward to working publicly with all stakeholders to finish the job of calculating all the benefits additional solar can bring to Idaho.”

According to Idaho Power, as of Nov. 1, it had 4,832 customers with on-site generation and an additional 749 applicants.

To access documents filed in this case, visit the commission’s website at puc.idaho.gov, and click on “Open Cases” under the “Electric” heading. Scroll down to case number IPC-E-18-15.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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