Public Service Commission nixes proposed fee for solar power users in Utah

Posted at 10:03 PM, Aug 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-30 00:06:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was a victory for renewable energy advocates Friday. Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to impose a monthly tax on Utahns who use solar.

"Psychologically, people hear $4.65 a month, it doesn't sound like that much, but in Arizona it had a tremendous difference in the number of solar installations," said Jim French, who generates electricity from the solar panels on his roof.

He said charging customers a monthly tax for renewable energy is not only unfair, but is also a detriment to Utah businesses.

Rocky Mountain Power doesn't see it that way. They argue the opposite.

"Our proposal was for a 4.65 monthly charge for those who generate their own power and the reason was to make it fair to all customers," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for RMP.

The battle between both sides came to a close when the Public Service Commission nixed the proposal.

"We are thrilled that the Public Service Commission chose to reject Rocky Mountain Power's rooftop solar," says Matt Pacenza, Policy Director for Heal Utah.

“Today was fabulous. It was a victory for the sun," French said.

That victory, however, may be short-lived.

"I know that it's not over," French said.

The commission wants to revisit the issue, but only if RMP can prove why customers who use solar panels should pay up for a service they don't use.

"We think that further studies will confirm what we already know, and that is: Customers who generate their own power are not paying the fair amount for the fixed cost as their neighbors," Murphy said.

"It's pretty clear that Utahns by and large want a transition toward clean and renewable energy," Pacenza said.

The contention is a signal the fight is far from over.

"Rocky Mountain Power is very dependent on burning fossil fuels, coal and natural gas,” French said. “I feel they see the day coming when more and more people are going to have solar panels. They see it as a threat to their bottom line.”

Rocky Mountain Power said it's all about being fair, arguing customers aren't paying their fair share. Renewable Energy Advocates completely disagree.

The Commission also approved a rate increase of $1.76 a month for regular RMP customers. Another rate increase of 73 cents a month is slated for September 2015. Overall, it's a 1.9 percent rate increase, which translates to $35 million in profits for the company in the next year alone.