Charging for the sun’s power

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JAKE PARRISH/Press file Solar panels gather sunlight on a property in Athol.

While one Idaho power company is hoping to charge customers who use solar power a different rate, Avista said it has no plans, for now, to do the same.

Boise-based Idaho Power, serving most of the southern part of the state, is seeking permission from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to put its solar-using consumers into a different rate-paying class in 2018. These net-metered customers generate their own power and are compensated for any surplus power they feed back into the grid. They also receive power when needed.

And, according to Idaho Power, they’re not paying their fair share of the company’s fixed costs.

“The rates currently charged to net metering customers were not designed to reflect the value of the bi-directional service being provided to them by the grid nearly every hour of every day, nor do they accurately reflect any potential benefits of on-site generation,” said Idaho Power’s application to the commission.

“These unnecessary inaccuracies in pricing could result in unfair cost shifting between customers who choose to install on-site generation and those who do not.”

Zack Waterman, director of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Idaho Power is singling out residents with solar panels, reported Idaho Public News Service in Boise.

“Solar has been growing fast in Idaho, but we think that the company’s scrambling to adjust this fixed-cost issue is more of a solution in search of a problem than one that is a significant problem right now,” Waterman said.

The net metering practice was established in Idaho in 1983. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar is on the rise in the Gem State. The sun powers 45,000 homes in Idaho, although not all of them are through rooftop panels.

About 1,400 Idahoans are enrolled in Idaho Power’s net-metering program. There are far fewer Idaho consumers enrolled in Avista’s similar program.

Casey Fielder, Avista’s communications manager, said the Spokane-based company has less than 50 net-metering customers in Idaho. Under Avista’s net metering tariff, customers who install equipment such as solar panels can use those resources to offset their personal energy needs.

“To the extent they need additional energy beyond what their resource can provide, Avista stands ready to serve that need,” Fielder said. “Should a net metering customer generate more energy than they need, under our tariff, that power will flow onto Avista’s distribution system. The customer is compensated for this power by Avista at the full retail rate.”

Fielder said Avista will continue to monitor the growth of net-metering customers in Idaho, and it will track the progress of the Idaho Power filing.

“At this point, we don’t foresee making a change in the near future,” Fielder said.

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