From the December 22, 2016 issue of Public Power Daily
Originally published December 21, 2016
By Peter Maloney 
Contributing Writer
 
The day before it was scheduled to take effect, Rocky Mountain Power asked the Utah Public Service Commission to suspend a net metering-related proposal. The PSC agreed and suspended the proposal, which would have taken effect Dec. 10, but the proposal was not to change net metering rates – that is part of a separate proposal and filing by RMP – but to add to the utility’s current tariff for net metering, schedule 135, language that says that net metering rates are not fixed and, like other rates, are subject to change.That proposal, known as 135A, would not have changed net metering rates, but would have served to put net metering customers on notice that net metering rates for new customers, customers after the Dec. 10 date, are not locked in. RMP said it “continues to be willing to work with interested stakeholders to address issues that have been raised about the net metering program.”
 
Further, in the Dec. 9 filing, the utility noted that it had been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders “to engage in further dialogue and explore mutually-acceptable resolutions.” But RMP said that intervenors “have disparate views about the process to be used for such discussions that require additional effort and time to resolve.”Some solar customers, potential customers and solar advocates in Utah are concerned about another proposal that they see as an even more potent threat and for which 135A could be a harbinger. Under that proposal (Docket 14-035-114) RMP is, in fact, seeking to change to a new tariff, 136, for net metering. That proposed tariff comes out of a mandated value of solar study in which RMP found that “revenue received from net metering customers does not cover the costs of serving them.” RMP told the PSC that net metering customers pay about 61% of their cost of service, while other residential class customers pay 96%, amounting to $400 per customer per year of cost shifting.
 
Extrapolating those figures, RMP estimated that by 2020, cost shifting would total $27 million per year, and over the next 20 years the cumulative cost shifting related to residential net metering would hit about $667 million. To change that scenario, RMP proposed a three-part rate structure that includes a fixed monthly charge, a charge for demand during peak hours, and an energy charge. Under its proposal, RMP said new customers would see fixed charges rise from $6 to $15 and receive a charge of $9.02/kWh during high demand periods and pay an additional $0.0381/kWh for energy. 
 
Opponents, such as the Utah Solar Energy Association, argue that RMP’s proposal is hasty, creates market uncertainty and would have a negative impact on the state’s solar power industry, which added 9,000 jobs over the past five years. That rate change request is now before the PSC. In the midst of that process, RMP filed its 135A proposal with the PSC as a transitional measure. It could also have the effect of stemming the possibility that customers would rush to lock in existing net metering rates before the rates are altered, assuming the PSC approves RMP’s proposed changes to net metering rates. The prospect of a change in net metering tariffs appeared to be enough to prompt a last-minute rush for residential solar applications to about 2,000 in the month since RMP announced the planned changes, from about 1,300 a month for the previous six months. 
 
At the end of 2013, about 2,200 customers had participated in the program, RMP said, but by the end of 2015, over 6,700 customers were signed up for net metering. RMP reported that, as of October 7, 7,000 more customers had enrolled with 3,500 more expected to enroll by year end, bringing the total number of net metering customers to over 17,000 by the end of 2016. Stakeholders in the 135A proceeding (Docket 16-035-T14) include the Utah Solar Energy Association, Vivint Solar, Sunrun, and the Energy Freedom Coalition of America. Margaret Oler, a spokeswoman for RMP, said the utility has held a couple of meetings with stakeholders, but that there is no set deadline for reaching an agreement.
 
Nevada went through a similar net metering proceeding when NV Energy at the end of 2015 proposed to reduce net metering rates without grandfathering existing solar customers. Nevada regulators in September approved an agreement between NV Energy, regulatory staff and solar developer SolarCity under which 32,000 rooftop solar customers are grandfathered under the original retail net metering rates for 20 years. 
 
Investor-owned utility NV Energy is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. RMP is a subsidiary of investor-owned utility PacifiCorp, which is also a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.