SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - Solar panels may seem like the new-fangled and maybe best economic model for your home right now, but here in Utah there's some debate about how long that'll last.
Rocky Mountain Power proposed price hikes to solar panel users back in November. The increases are three tiered: a flat rate of $15 per month up from $6 per month, a $9 per kilowatt demand charge, and an additional energy charge. These numbers will hit the debate floor next week during a public hearing organized by the Public Service Commission.
Solar companies and activist groups argue that these rate increases will hurt the industry and hurt the environment.
Sarah Wright is the Executive Director of Utah Clean Energy. She argues, "[Rocky Mountain Power is] charging new fees that will change the economics of solar so that it takes it out of reach for the average Utah family."
Wright says the power company is proposing a whole new way of charging for power."Right now we pay for our electricity based on a unit of energy, a kilowatt hour, and they are proposing a brand new fee based on a demand charge, based on the pull that any of your appliances have on the system at any one period of time." She continued, "That fee will increase the cost of solar, and make it less economic to save energy because the cost per unit of energy goes way down under their proposal, so there's no incentive to save energy which is the easiest way to cut pollution."
Erin and Ray Searles installed their panels last year. They anticipated a small amount of savings but really made the leap to shrink their carbon footprint. Speaking about the rate increases, Erin Searles said, "Where today we are seeing minimal savings, it's essentially going to wipe out our investment as if we hadn't done anything."
She said the environmental impact really does matter, "We're getting more people into our communities and that means more energy usage and if we're not offsetting that somehow, our air is going to continue to get worse, that impacts everybody."
ABC4 Utah reached out to Rocky Mountain Power for this story and they said that these proposed rate increases are meant to even the playing field when it comes to solar, and they are open to negotiation. Their representative said they believe solar is here to stay and they would like to find a sustainable solution.
The Public Service Commission is holding a public hearing next Wednesday, July 9 at 1pm.
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