Update Friday, July 28: The Snake River Alliance is extending the deadline to sign up for its Solarize the Valley project. The deadline is now August 15.
Renewable energy is always a subject up for discussion. Idaho Power serves about 1,200 solar users, but across the country, there’s pushback from utility companies on renewables, specifically with the net metering process.
Net metering is a system in which solar panels or other renewable energy generators are connected to the power grid and any surplus energy that’s generated is sold back to the power company, allowing customers to offset utility costs.
Stephanie McCurdy, a communications specialist with Idaho Power, says the offset cost doesn’t provide an accurate value of what it costs to maintain things like power lines, transformers and other infrastructure.
“As customers who have onsite generation offset their monthly use through net metering, they reduce their total energy charge, so the fixed costs they would normally pay as part of this energy charge are passed on through other customers in the form of higher rates,” says McCurdy.
Renewable energy advocacy groups are concerned Idaho’s power companies will try to offset fixed costs by charging residential solar users more.
Snake River Alliance is a local organization with a core focus on renewables, specifically highlighting solar. The organization has a program called “Solarize the Valley”, which is designed to encourage homeowners to transition to solar panels. Executive Director Wendy Wilson says Idaho is currently a leader when it comes to net metering.
“Idaho Power actually has a really strong net metering program right now, but in many states they’ve tried to stop or eliminate the program with onerous fees and it’s been very difficult for the solar industry to develop properly, and for green jobs in our community, if the program is threatened,” says Wilson.
She’s concerned the trend of higher rates for solar users might discourage future converts to green energy.
Idaho Power’s McCurdy says part of the problem is that solar users only pay a $5 monthly charge on their energy bill for access to the power grid. That’s not enough to cover the fixed costs of energy non-solar customers pay.
Whether current solar users are going to be charged higher rates is unclear, but McCurdy says the utility is committed to maintaining the net metering program.
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