By John Rogers

The parties involved in an ongoing dispute over how rooftop solar systems interface with traditional utilities have reached an agreement. Advocates and marketers of the popular rooftop installations have signed a settlement with Rocky Mountain Power which kills a proposal made by the utility that the consumer solar power group, led by a coalition called Utah Clean Energy, felt would have killed their industry. 

In a press statement posted on its website, Utah Clean Energy said, “It would have made solar unaffordable for most Utah households and eliminated the thousands of jobs that this industry brings to our state. We entered settlement negotiations in hopes of avoiding that outcome. After a challenging and thorough negotiation process, Utah Clean Energy and other official interveners signed a settlement agreement with Rocky Mountain Power. The agreement will serve as an interim solution to the standoff over utility rates for rooftop solar customers.  For better or for worse, more work to ensure Utah’s long-term solar future is still ahead of us.”

Utah Clean Energy cited 2016 Nevada legislation that allowed that state’s only power provider, NV Energy, to charge higher rates and fees for solar panel users while also reducing the rates the company was required to pay for electricity fed back into the grid by solar panel owners. Most of the state’s rooftop installers cut back operations in response to the law and the industry’s association said it cost 2,500 solar-related jobs. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed legislation in June rolling back most of the changes, breathing life back into rooftop business. 

Rocky Mountain’s proposal would have included a “demand charge” which opponents said would have negated any affordability a rooftop installation may have had.

Under the new agreement, supported by Salt Lake City, Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Office of Energy Development Director Laura Nelson, Rocky Mountain Power and other stakeholders, provides for a credit rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for those who have already installed residential solar systems to cover their investments while allowing for a 9.2 cents/kwh rate after Nov. 15 that still makes purchasing residential solar a relatively reasonable fiscal decision, according to signees. That rate stays in place for three years while the state, Rocky Mountain Power and other stakeholders work to assess the overall solar cost/benefit framework and construct a permanent solution.

Utah-based Vivint Solar concurred with advocates that Rocky Mountain Power’s original proposal “could have devastated the solar industry” in Utah and, in a statement released last week, said even under the compromise agreement, it wouldn’t escape unharmed.

“Utahns are passionate about technological innovation, energy independence and environmental stewardship,” said David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar. “The settlement clears up the uncertainty of the last nine months created by (Rocky Mountain Power), but as with any compromise, we didn’t get everything we want in this deal.”

The new agreement must still be approved by the Public Service Commission of Utah.

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