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Op-ed: Proposed rooftop solar rates are an attempt to unravel energy independence

Solar panels being installed on a house.
Solar panels being installed on a house.
Reed Saxon, Associated Press

We represent two homegrown, Utah solar businesses. And while we’re competitors, we’ve come together to address Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed net metering rates that would be imposed on Utah’s rooftop solar customers.

Having been in this industry for 24 years combined, we’ve seen Utah’s solar industry grow from a niche business to a thriving industry. Throughout that time, we’ve witnessed everything from new interconnection rules, ever-changing local government permitting and customer fluctuations, but we have never experienced such an egregious threat to Utah’s solar industry. The utility’s proposal goes too far, and will not only hurt Utah’s solar industry with its thousands of well-paying jobs, but it will also hinder Utah residents who want to go solar.

The proposed 150 percent rate increase for solar homeowners is a very complicated issue and is confusing to our current and potential customers. In fact, the mere filing of the net metering proposal by Rocky Mountain with the Utah Public Service Commission in December 2016, has created real uncertainty in the market and stagnated our sales. Poorly conceived net metering changes basically killed the rooftop solar industry in Nevada, until a year later when the State Legislature amended its net metering law to revive the solar industry. Let’s avoid what happened in Nevada and get it right the first time.

According to industry surveys, there are three main motivators for adopting solar: First, saving money on energy bills; second, energy independence; and third, reducing one’s carbon footprint. All are good reasons to invest in solar energy! The proposed rate increase and additional charges for rooftop solar customers will drastically reduce solar users’ energy savings and increase the time for their return on investment. Such an increase in payback will most definitely prevent many Utahns from going solar.

Rocky Mountain Power’s assertion that early clean-energy adopters aren't paying their fair share of the overall infrastructure costs is not accurate. The net metering proposal is based on a 100-year old business model that relies on building power plants, the utility’s core money maker. As businessmen, we understand Rocky Mountain Power’s desire to turn a profit, but its proposal is so specifically targeting solar, it is hard not to see this as an attempt by a monopoly utility to squash its competition. In a state like Utah that prides itself on spurring economic growth and business innovation, this kind of monopolistic business practice is unacceptable.

Utah is a pro-business state, so let’s work together to develop long-term solutions. We urge Rocky Mountain Power to consider not only its bottom line but all of the benefits solar brings to Utah, such as $12 million in service panel upgrades paid for by solar customers; more than 4,400 well-paying jobs; and cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle that all Utahns can enjoy.

As an industry, we’re open to fair changes in rates that ensure affordable energy for our customers, while allowing our utility to make a profit. But we are not open to changes that would kill our industry and eliminate the economic and lifestyle benefits that solar provides to all of us. Let’s find a better long-term solution together that is in line with Gov. Gary Herbert’s challenge to innovate and grow businesses in our state.

Ken Gardner is the founder and president of Gardner Energy. Doug Shipley is the CEO of Intermountain Wind and Solar.