Tuesday night the municipal council voted to take another look at the solar fee issue. I’m not sure if I remember an issue that has had so much agreement about the goals and so much disagreement about how to reach them.
At the risk of confusing all of us even more, I’ll try to explain the problem in bite-sized pieces. It’s worth understanding even if you need to read this post several times.
Where does my money go after I pay my power bill?
All of the residents of Provo buy power from Provo Power. For many reasons when we pay our power bill we all pay a portion to items that are not directly related to the amount of power we use. Your power bill includes a portion that pays for iProvo, roads, street lights and even items in our general fund such as police and fire. In addition when you pay for power you’re paying for the power grid that delivers the power to your home. This is a fixed cost that does not vary as you use more or less power. The reason we have these other costs associated with your bill is complicated but it validates how much of a value your power is in Provo. Even with these additional costs, Provo Power provides energy to our homes for less than surrounding cities who buy theirs from other sources.
How is the growing population of solar users impacting the power grid?
When solar users dramatically lower their power bill they are also lowering their participation in other power grid costs. The great concern is that as solar users grow, fewer and fewer people will be carrying the burden of paying for the grid. In a recent survey, 75% of our residents stated they might invest in solar in the next 5 years. Imagine if 75% of our residents were not paying for the grid and yet at the same time were reliant on that grid to power their solar system and provide power when the sun wasn’t shining.
I read the controversy but exactly what passed the council a few weeks ago?
The original proposal of the council was to add a surcharge to the bill of solar users to help cover the cost of the grid. For the average solar user, the fee would have been approximately $18 per month. Understandable, this caused great concern to those who had invested large amounts of money in solar and to those who hope to invest in solar in the future.
Where do I fall on the issue?
I appreciate those who are willing to invest in solar. Some do it for economic reasons, some to be green and others because they want to be self reliant. Regardless, I want to encourage those who are willing be be early adopters and invest large amounts in solar so that it paves the way for others to follow in the future. That said, I’m not willing to sacrifice the long-term sustainability of Provo Power to obtain this goal. We need to find a way to do both.
Should I look to invest in solar now?
The council’s actions of this recent Tuesday night pushed a restart button on the discussion. They gave themselves and the community 90 days to see if we could come up with a better solution. The goal is to put together a commission to study the issue and make a recommendation to council. It’s important that residents considering investing in solar understand that the council is debating fee increases and that they factor the likelihood of changes into their decision.
Part of the council’s actions added this to the Provo City application for solar, “Fees, charges, and rates described herein are subject to change at any time by action of the Provo City Municipal Council. Such changes include, but are not limited to, increasing, reducing, or eliminating established fees, charges, or rates; modifying or removing existing rate classes; adding new rate classes; and adding new fees, charges, or rates, whether such fees, charges, or rates are applicable to all Provo City Power customers or only to customers in a defined group or class that includes Customer. Changes to fees, charges, and rates may reduce or eliminate any return on investment (ROI) anticipated by the Customer when installing an electrical generating system.”
Some may worry that this warning will put a chill on solar sales but the council is not willing to have residents make a decision without a notice that these issues are under consideration.
No doubt, many of our residents will want to follow this discussion during the next several months.2