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Solar customers upset with power company’s fee proposal

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Jul 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-23 20:09:29-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Homeowners and local churches are pushing back against a utility fee that would charge customers who use solar energy.

Jay Vestal installed 13 solar panels on the roof of his Millcreek home, and the panels generate 40 percent of his electricity.

He said it was a tough investment to make at the time, but he expected it to pay in the long run.

“It was many thousands of dollars," he said. "So an additional $4.65 a month I think would have disincentivized me from having solar."

Rocky Mountain Power wants the public service commission to increase rates on solar customers by $4.65, which would pay for their share of transmission system costs.

The utility says the fee would lower the fee for customers who aren't using the net-metering system.

“It's a very small fee to pay for the poles, wires, and everything you need to make sure you have electricity coming to your house when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow,” said Paul Murphy, who is a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

Several churches that use solar power have spoken out about the charge. They worry once it goes into effect it's unlikely to ever go away and could increase over time. Jean Schwien, Pastor of the Christ United Methodist Church, is one of those who is displeased with Rocky Mountain Power's proposal.

“We just don't want to open that doorway," Schwien said. "We would much rather have Rocky Mountain Power doing proactive things to help people invest in renewable energy, rather than having this that feels like a punishment."

Murphy said the fee isn't a punishment but a step toward a more equitable system.

“We think it's great that people want to generate their own power, we just think they ought to pay for their fair share of the electricity bill,” Murphy said.

The public service commission will take comments on the issue from now through July 27.