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Idaho Power wanted to cut payments for solar panel electricity. See what regulators said

Politics

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Mary Lucachick can’t resist dropping by her electrical meter on the side of her Foothills house to watch the numbers run backward as she puts power back into Idaho Power’s electrical lines. | BY KYLE GREEN

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has rejected a proposed settlement that would have reduced the credits customers receive from Idaho Power when they generate their own electricity using rooftop solar panels.

The three-member PUC said Friday in a written statement that the public wasn’t adequately notified or aware the agreement might result in significant changes to Idaho Power’s net-metering program.

“We applaud the commission standing up for existing solar owners,” Ben Otto of the Idaho Conservation League said in a statement. The ICL participated in the settlement talks but did not sign the agreement.

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Jordan Rodriguez, an Idaho Power spokesman, said the company accepts the decision but will continue to work to lower the amount it pays to home customers to produce electricity.

“We will continue working with the commission, customers and other stakeholders to further study and develop a pricing structure that reduces the subsidies provided for customer generation and is fair to all Idaho Power customers,” Rodriguez wrote in a statement.

Idaho Power buys or produces electricity at a cost of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. It pays an additional 7 cents for the cost of the electric transmission grid and other expenses. The issue was whether Idaho Power should pay solar customers the 3-cent wholesale rate or the 10-cent retail rate.

Under the settlement agreement, Idaho Power would have paid 8.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in credits that solar generators would get when they add electricity to the grid for at least the next two years. The parties would have returned to the issue every two years for eight years when the rate would have been reduced to 4.4 cents.

Customers interested in adding rooftop solar panels to their homes complained that the settlement terms would have made it difficult to recoup their costs. Companies that sell and install solar panels, which employ 557 people in Idaho, said they were worried about suffering a significant downturn in business.

Idaho ranks 21st among states in installed solar, with over 488 megawatts installed, enough to power 64,443 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

The proposed agreement came after a year of negotiations involving PUC staff, Idaho Power and other groups, including the Idaho Clean Energy Association, Vote Solar, the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, Idahydro, the city of Boise, the Idaho Sierra Club and Industrial Customers of Idaho Power.

The commission voted to permanently grandfather 4,000 existing Idaho Power customers with solar power into the system that’s now in place. The rates they’re paid will not change.

Idaho Power supports the PUC on the grandfathering decision, Rodriguez said.

The commission also ordered Idaho Power to conduct a study of the costs and benefits of adding electricity created by rooftop panels to its system.

“Net metering is a fair credit for the valuable investment in local clean energy that benefits us all,” Briana Kobor of Vote Solar said in a statement. “A fair study of costs and benefits will confirm that local, homegrown solar energy provides real benefits and deserves fair compensation.”

The PUC said it would hold joint public workshops with Idaho Power to provide information and perspective on the design of the study and on its net-metering program. The public will also be given a chance to comment.

During two days of public hearings on the proposed settlement, the PUC listened to 13 hours of testimony. The commission said it also received more than 1,000 written comments.

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