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Health, Science & Environment

Deal Settles Controversy Over Rooftop Solar Rates

Judy Fahys
Laura Nelson, director of the Energy Development Office, has been a key figure in crafting a deal that locks in rates through 2034, which gives rooftop solar customers certainty about their investment.

There’s finally a compromise after more than a year of anxiety about rooftop solar rates.

The deal is detailed in paperwork filed late Monday with the Utah Public Service Commission. No one loves all parts of it, but advocates, agencies and companies say the settlement advances solar energy without unfairly burdening regular customers.

“We’re happy that this moves things toward a solution,” says Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall, “ that’s market-based, and it removes the subsidies currently being paid by all of our customers for those people who have rooftop solar.”

The power company proposed adding new charges last year after estimating that the subsidy would grow to $667 million dollars in the next two decades.

But solar customers and the industry complained that increasing costs would slow – and possibly kill – rooftop solar in Utah, along with benefits like cleaner air.

“For the industry itself, it’s a great feeling of: ‘Okay, it’s time to move on,” says Ryan Evans, who leads the solar industry trade group, the Utah Solar Energy Association. “We’ve got something in place. We’ve got a great level of certainty and security for our customers moving forward.”

The agreement basically means a hodgepodge of rate plans for solar customers. Current customers can apply to keep the rates they’re paying now. After November 15, they can get credit at residential rates for electricity they send to the grid. Yet another rate structure will be developed to factor in lessons learned over the next three years.

Roughly 20 organizations have worked all year on a high-stakes problem that was complex and emotional.

“The governor set out an agenda here which really was: create a win, win, win outcome for Utah,” said Laura Nelson, who leads the state Office of Energy Development and led the talks for Governor Gary Herbert. “And that meant for the utility, the solar industry and for customers – and I mean customers that either choose to have solar on their home or not.”

Nelson said the bottom line was to benefit Utah’s economy. Utah is ranked sixth nationally for solar homes.

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