SALT LAKE CITY — To the relief of the solar industry and Utah customers who buy rooftop systems after Friday, the Public Service Commission suspended a request by Rocky Mountain Power that new residential solar energy producers be subject to possible rate changes.
The suspension of the tariff filing was sought by the solar industry and bolstered by Rocky Mountain Power's own down-to-the-wire request on Friday asking the filing be suspended, noting more discussion is needed.
"Over the course of the past week, the company has been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders to engage in further dialogue and explore mutually acceptable resolutions," wrote Jeffrey K. Larsen, vice president of regulation for Rocky Mountain Power in the request to the commission.
"Based on the current status of the meetings and in an effort to foster further discussion, the company recommends the commission exercise its statutory prerogative to suspend the tariff filing," Larsen wrote in a hand-delivered letter.
The commission, which was also pressured by the solar industry and consumers to reject the tariff, did just that.
"It is a good, short-term win," said Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association. "The ability of the industry to carry on as is is important."
Evans also praised Rocky Mountain Power for its withdrawal of the request, stressing the importance of ongoing discussions to resolve issues surrounding potential new fees for solar customers.
A month ago, Rocky Mountain Power proposed a trifecta of new charges for solar customers, arguing that its nonsolar customer base is subsidizing solar energy producers at a cost of $6.5 million a year. While Rocky Mountain Power did not seek to have any of those new charges apply to current rooftop solar customers, it did want anyone who buys a system after Dec. 9 to be on notice that those charges could apply.
The solar industry said that rushed Dec. 9 deadline created a chilling effect on customers, chasing them away because of confusion over what the end result may look like on their utility bill. Members of the Public Service Commission will not weigh the proposed rate changes until August, setting aside a weeklong hearing to hear the arguments for and against new fees for solar customers.
The utility company asked the commission to approve a one-time application fee of $60 to cover administrative costs and a $15 fixed monthly rate charge. It also wants to charge $9.02 per kilowatt for peak demand and 3.81 cents per kilowatt-hour for the amount of energy used, new rate structures that it argues more accurately capture costs and benefits associated with rooftop solar customers.
Evans said he is hopeful that ongoing discussions between the solar industry — which employs 4,000 people in Utah — and Rocky Mountain Power can strike an equitable solution prior to the commission's August hearings.
"This (decision) gives us a little more time to find a solution and talk about the value solar energy brings to Utah," he said, noting resolution before August hearings begin would be ideal. "That would obviously be a win for everybody."