Solar power advocates are urging the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to reject a request by Idaho Power Co. to change the formula by which existing home power producers can sell their excess electricity to the utility.

In July 2017, Idaho Power applied for authority to establish new schedules for residential and small businesses that generate some of their own electricity. The utility contended that its existing pricing did not reflect the cost to serve them.

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. The commission also stated that a “bi-directional” on-site generation customer can push energy back to the grid whenever its generation source and timing allows it to, with Idaho Power having limited control over the use and distribution of the somewhat unpredictable resource.

On Oct. 11, 2019, an agreement reached between Idaho Power, the PUC and seven other entities, including the city of Boise, the Idaho Sierra Club and the Idaho Clean Energy Association, allowed Idaho Power to change its method of buying power from home solar producers from one priced monthly to one priced on a net hourly basis.

However, it 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.

In a brief filed on that date, the Idaho Conservation League and Vote Solar, a national nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif., argued that the proposed pricing method would reduce the price paid for excess power, and therefore be unfair to existing customers who figured the current prices into their decisions to install solar power. The groups claimed the uncertainty would also deter future solar installations.

The two organizations stated that under the new pricing system, the average existing residential customer-generator’s monthly bill would increase by 25 percent, making more than 30 percent of customers’ solar systems uneconomic.

“Idaho families deserve better from Idaho Power and the PUC,” ICL Energy Associate Ben Otto said in a media release. “Idahoans who chose to invest early in their energy freedom should not have the rules changed after the deal is done. Changing the math now is unfair and penalizes those who are leading Idaho into a clean energy future.”

In its brief, Idaho Power noted that solar power producers are notified when they hook up to the grid that the price for buying their power is subject to change.

The ICL and Vote Solar pointed out that of the handful of states that have changed from traditional monthly net metering to alternate compensation programs, all have protected customers with existing generation. The organizations urged the PUC to keep the existing program open to existing customers indefinitely or for at least 20 years. Idaho Power argued that if a restriction is imposed, it should be for only 10 years.

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

ICL and Vote Solar stated that that constitutes about 1 percent of residential customers and 0.2 percent of small-business customers. The groups contended that if all those customers were allowed to remain on the current pricing schedule, the impact to a typical residential customer would be only 18 cents per month.

A comment period on Idaho Power’s request is open until Dec. 3. Refer to docket IPC-E-18-15 on the Idaho PUC’s website. Public hearings on the request are scheduled for Dec. 2-3.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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