Ending Year-End Checks
by Aaron Kunz
BOISE, Idaho -- If you use solar panels or wind turbines to generate your own power, you can sell the electricity you don't use back to your utility. But one Northwest power company wants to stop sending checks to customers who generate their own power and put it on the grid.
Last November Idaho Power filed an application with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to make significant changes to its net metering program. Among the changes, Idaho Power regulatory analyst Matt Larkin says, the company wants to end cash payments for end of year excess credits.
Currently, Idaho Power awards a credit against customers' utility bills for the solar and wind power they put onto the grid. If they still have unused credits when the year ends, Idaho Power sends them a check.
Idaho Power says it will continue applying the credit to customers' monthly bills. But it is asking utility regulators to allow it to stop sending out the year-end checks, in order to avoid increased oversight by federal regulators. The unused credits would instead be used to lower all Idaho Power customers' rates in good years when it files for the annual power cost adjustment with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
That doesn't sit well with customer Roger Findley. The solar panels on his farm near Ontario, Oregon produce so much energy that he gets a check each year from Idaho Power. He is worried that he will lose as much as three months of credits every year if Idaho Power gets its way.
Findley also thinks Idaho Power shouldn't charge him service fees during the summer months when he relies entirely on the power he generates from his solar panels.
Ben Otto with the Idaho Conservation League says this new proposal would reduce the benefits to the 353 net metering cust omers in Idaho and Oregon. Because customers could lose credits at the end of the year, it doesn't give them any incentive to conserve energy.
Otto thinks residential customers who invest in clean energy provide more value to the utility. Solar, for example, provides energy at peak energy times.
"What's the value of not providing energy to a residential home?" asks Otto. He says it prevents Idaho Power from having to build a new power plant or a smaller peaker plant to meet demand during high usage periods.
The first of several public hearings is scheduled in late April. More are scheduled over the next few months. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is likely to make a final decision in July.
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