There is much to consider in the controversy of net metering for #solar power customers who have been placed on the utility grid. While it is intended nationally to help in saving with #energy costs as well as clean energy generation, there is much more to what utility companies like Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) are doing with the excess credits generated by the solar panels that create over 100% of the home’s energy needs. Arguments are tossed back and forth about what the best use for those credits should be, along with assistance for low-income families in some manner or another.
Net Metering and Solar Power in Utah
A net meter measures the difference between the electricity used by the customer and the electricity generated by your solar panels. As of now net metering in all private solar systems is required to be included before they take action for the power of any home. Intended to ensure that customers are not over-developing their solar energy systems. The rule of no more than 100% of home energy needs means that there will not be expired credits, but if there is more, then remaining credits will expire placing them in the hands of the utility company. Most rooftop solar customers use all credits, but the number of expired credits is quickly increasing.
In 2016-17, RMP solar customers forfeited over $56,000 in expired credits with that number reaching almost $160,000 this year. Potential explanations include over 9,000 new arrays installed by RMP customers in 2017-18, just before net metering ended. The most recent net metering report that RMP filed shows some changes affecting their numbers. With over 30,000 solar customers to date, new installations are now lowering from previous years. Apparently, just over 1,000 customers were installing in the second quarter of this year, only about half of the first quarter numbers. Looking back to 2016-17, with numbers of about 10,000 annually, this is a significant drop as well.
New solar customers are in transition mode until 2020 while utility companies determine what to do with this energy. With this transition period being confusing, new installation is a difficult decision to make. For those who installed before November, when net metering ended, they are able to receive the full market value of their energy credits. Since net metering ended in November, market rates are no longer held for new solar customers, and the transition customers who installed before the end of March face only what is stated to be about 92% credit for the solar energy generated by their systems, with measurements made in 15-minute intervals. Basically, if solar is generated during the day (and not being used) reduced credits are received and those who purchased the solar panels are often times not getting the full value of their systems.
Assisting Low-Income residents – Options for Expired Net Metering Credits
Entering from current systems or beginning the transitional period, RMP customers have one year to reduce electricity bills with their solar energy credits. Solar generation measurement runs from April 1 through March 31 of the next year. If customers generate more solar energy than needed for power of the home, the credits expire.
By law, RMP used expired credits in the past to help low-income customers in the Home Energy Lifeline Program, or HELP. Utah Clean Energy proposes using expired credits in support of rooftop solar for low-income homes. However, rejection has come from other leading offices. Utah Clean Energy supports use of the expired solar credits for the Utah Weatherization Assistance Program. Either way, the desire is to support financially troubled households build renewables.
RMP argues that this program would be costly while only benefiting a few, and the question of eligibility would be a risk. They propose sending expired solar credits to the Salvation Army’s Lend A Hand program, donating funds to prevent disconnection of electric service for those in need.
Now that Net Metering Has Ended for Utah Solar Power Customers
RMP argued that net metering credits caused costs to collect as they were passed on to non-solar customers. Upon generating agreements with Utah Clean Energy and the Utah Office of Consumer Services, the utility now pays solar customers differently. Last fall, the Utah Public Service Commission approved a deal where residents who applied for net metering by November 14, 2017 had one year to complete PV installations and be grandfathered into the grid for full-rate net metering.
There is also transitional status, with the requirement of application before October 1, 2020 in the “Export Credit Proceeding” program. This program offers residential solar tax credits extended through 2024. Customers receive a $1,600 credit through 2020, then credits reduced $400 annually through 2024.
With all of this change at once it is difficult for the utilities and the solar companies to determine how things are working. Since most of the 2018 installations were transition customers, as well as those who are trying to get their systems installed in time for their credits, there may need to be some waiting and reviewing of what happens. Apparently the first quarter results were not even close to as positive as past years. There could still be potential for positive results if things are set up properly. This could be a struggle to change, with the need for everyone involved to adjust, but there is also the battle on both sides of the fence as to what is to be done with the solar energy credits being produced, whether tax credits are as beneficial as energy cost and much more. With the future concern that the utility companies may remain at the head of the pack there is the potential search for other energy sources that could be more self-sufficient and sustainable for the homes in which they are stored.