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Report Focuses On Rooftop Solar Fee's Fairness

Judy Fahys
The new rooftop solar installation on top of the Vivint Smart Home Arena. Critics say the new rates proposed by Rocky Mountain Power will reduce the benefits and increased the costs of solar investments.

Rocky Mountain Power says its new study shows how rooftop solar customers are being subsidized by households that don’t rely on solar panels. It’s the latest in the two-year fight between Utah’s electric power monopoly and solar advocates over net metering -- basically what solar customers pay to remain part of the grid.

The study’s prompting the company to ask state regulators to start charging new rooftop solar customers more.

“We found that the average rooftop solar customer is being subsidized $400 per year,” says company spokesman Paul Murphy. “And that over the next 20 years, if the system isn’t changed, these subsidies will total $667 million dollars, and those subsidies are being paid by other customers.”

The Utah Public Service Commission is sure to ask ratepayers what they think and might even force the company to do an in-depth rate review. But environmental and business groups are already questioning the power company’s math and predicting it will stymie solar’s explosive growth in Utah.

“In our opinion,” says Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Industries Association, “this new fee structure will significantly limit competition and free market principles that we believe Utah holds strong.”

Evans says the power company’s study doesn’t count the air-quality benefits of solar and ignores the jobs that could be lost if solar investments slow. He says a similar fight over rooftop solar promoted Nevada voters to pass a ballot measure Tuesday that deregulates electricity.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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