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Rocky Mountain Power seeks fee hikes for new solar customers

SALT LAKE CITY — Rocky Mountain Power says a study of what rooftop solar customers are paying shows that the current rate structure is not sustainable, with costs of $6.5 million being shifted each year to other customers.

Those costs — which the utility company says will balloon to $667 million over the next 20 years — are driving a proposed three-prong rate increase for any new solar customers after Dec. 9.

"Rocky Mountain Power supports renewable resources as long as an appropriate rate is in place that allows customers to use private generation without adversely affecting other residential customers," said Greg Hoogeveen, Rocky Mountain Power's senior vice president and chief commercial officer.

"Customers partially relying on renewable energy through the net metering program must still pay their fair share of the costs to serve them," Hoogeveen said.

But David Bywater, Vivint Solar's interim chief executive officer, described the proposal as the most onerous assault on the solar industry in the country, predicting it will topple one Utah's fastest-growing economic engines.

"For us, we think it is an outrageous and unfair move by a monopoly," he said.

Bywater said rate changes imposed in Nevada killed rooftop solar installations — dropping them by 99 percent — and led major solar companies to leave the state.

"This is substantially more onerous," he said.

The utility company is asking the Public Service Commission to approve a one-time application fee of $60 to cover administrative costs and a $15 fixed monthly rate charge for other costs like customer service and meters.

In addition, the utility company is proposing to charge $9.02 per kilowatt for peak period demand and 3.81 cents per kilowatt-hour for the amount of energy used — new rate structures that the utility company says more accurately capture costs and benefits associated with rooftop solar customers.

Clean energy advocates blasted the proposal, asserting Rocky Mountain Power is punishing rooftop solar customers.

"Consumer access to rooftop solar is a tremendous asset for Utah’s future. It creates jobs and economic growth while contributing to a cleaner, more resilient energy system. Rocky Mountain Power’s recent filing isn’t just a step backward, it is a leap in the wrong direction," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.

"While we recognize we may need to make changes to net metering, this draconian proposal will hurt Utahns for years to come," Wright added.

Rocky Mountain Power says other customers are subsidizing those with rooftop solar, which has grown from 2,200 households in 2013 to 6,700 households in 2015 — or 200 percent.

As of Oct. 7, 7,000 more rooftop solar systems had come online, according to the utility company, and it expects another 3,500 will be added by the end of the year.

In its filing seeking the rate changes, Rocky Mountain Power asks the Public Service Commission to "determine that the current rate structure for net metering customers is unjust and reasonable," because it unfairly shifts costs to other customers.

Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, echoed the fear that the new fees will deter the adoption of rooftop solar.

"Solar has become affordable recently to a wide range of Utah families,” Pacenza said. “That stops now. An investment that would pay off in a decade now will take 20 or 30 years before it pays back — if ever.”