A dispute over how home solar power producers should be compensated for the power they add to the grid remains unresolved.
On Dec. 20, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission rejected a proposed agreement on the subject tentatively reached among Idaho Power, PUC staff and seven other entities, though the PUC ordered that rates for existing home solar producers be grandfathered in.
Now, Idaho Power is asking the PUC to reconsider its rejection, while three conservation organizations, including the Idaho Conservation League, are asking the agency to extend the locked-in rates to anyone who signs on with home solar power between now and whenever new rates for future customers are set.
The proposed agreement involves net metering, which records the amount of power produced by a home power producer relative to the amount the home consumes. Under Idaho Power’s current program, excess energy is compensated with a credit that values energy consumed equal to the solar energy produced. Under the proposed 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.
The proposed agreement did not resolve the issue of whether the change would apply to existing as well as future customers.
In its Dec. 20 order, the commission ruled that the record created from the settlement proceedings was insufficient to support the agreement.
In a petition for reconsideration submitted Jan. 10, Idaho Power contended that “evidence in the record supports that the parties did in fact conduct a comprehensive study.” The utility requested that the commission at least reconsider its directive for an entirely new scoping process and comprehensive study, “recognizing the significant efforts expended by the parties to date.”
The petition recommends immediate implementation of net hourly billing, with power consumed and solar power produced charged the same rate during the interim period, and recommends initiation of a public process to explore the appropriate value for energy produced by future solar customers.
“The immediate implementation of net hourly billing for new … customers will also build on the extensive work performed to date, greatly narrow the scope of issues to be explored going forward, and send a clear signal to solar installers and future participants that future changes are likely to occur,” Idaho Power stated.
The utility is also asking for clarification on whether a “customer” for whom purchase rates are grandfathered in is defined as the individual holding the contract or the home solar system on which it is based.
“[I]t is Idaho Power’s understanding that once that service contract ends, the site will no longer be grandfathered,” the petition states.
Idaho Conservation League Energy Associate Ben Otto said that’s the way his organization understands the order as well.
“We don’t necessarily agree,” he said. “We think it makes more sense to tie it to the system. But it’s not a big issue.”
In their petition for reconsideration, the ICL, Vote Solar and Earthjustice are asking the PUC to extend eligibility for current net-metering rates to new customers with solar contracts before the new rates are set.
“Following the Commission’s decision, the only reasonable option for customers is to make no investments unless and until a successor program is in place,” the conservation groups’ petition states. “That benefits the utility—which sees customer-owned generation as a competitive threat—at the expense of customers.”
The groups contend that unless eligibility is extended through the interim period, Idaho Power will be incentivized to delay its new study and its decision setting new rates.