Power company proposes new charge on homes with solar panels

Posted at 6:54 PM, Apr 15, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-15 23:32:32-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Jim French moved to Utah eight years ago. He loved his new home but hated the air.

“We were concerned about helping the air quality in the valley,” French of Salt Lake City said.

Five years ago he decided to help out by getting solar panels.

“We wanted to help the environment and specifically we wanted to help the air shed issues the air quality issues in the valley,” French said.

But solar panel owners like French feel like they’re getting burned by a new $4.25 charge that Rocky Mountain Power wants to put on those who make their own power.

“It may not sound like a lot but you have to realize that these families have chosen to invest thousands of their hard-earned dollars into doing the right thing to make their own electricity,” said Matt Pecenza, Policy Director of HEAL Utah.

Pacenza said solar panel owners already invest thousands of dollars. The new charge would increase the time it takes homeowners to see their investment in solar panels.

“While it might not sound like a lot of money if you add that up over the lifetime of the solar panels we’re told it could add an additional 18 months or more to the time it takes your investment to pay back,” Pacenza said.

In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power has over 800,000 customers and only 2,500 people create their own energy -- whether that be from wind or solar. Now, those people who have solar panels are worried this charge will make people more hesitant from getting solar panels in the future.

“People will say, ‘look this time it’s $4.25 what will it be next time?’” French said.

Pacenza said the power company is making the wrong decision at the wrong time.

“We need more folks to do this, not discouraging those who are,” Pacenza said.

But Rocky Mountain Power officials say since there is a mix of fixed costs and energy use it’s not fair for the rest of the public to pay for the added costs put on by those who use solar panels.

“We’re just looking for a way to make sure prices are fair for all of our customers and it’s not a penalty it’s for fairness we don’t believe someone in Rose Park should be paying for someone who has solar panels in park city,” said Paul Murphy, Rocky Mountain Power Spokesperson.
The Public Service Commission will have public hearings on the requests later in April and May.