By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State utility regulators are delaying Idaho Power's quest to lump people who install rooftop solar panels into a new class of energy providers.
Idaho Power in July asked the commission for permission to create a new class of customer starting Jan. 1. Doing so would allow the company to discuss possible rate hikes for that new class of customers vs. what current solar producers pay to access the state's power grid and buy electricity when their panels are not producing.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission announced Wednesday it will hold a hearing in March before rendering a decision on the utility company's request.
"From our perspective, nothing has changed," said Jordan Rodriguez, a spokesman for Idaho Power. "We are expecting a decision now by April 1 and we will go from there."
The request centers around a practice called "net metering," a system first created in 1983 requiring homeowners and small business owners who install solar panels to be compensated for any surplus energy they feed back onto the grid. It's a practice largely regarded as a key incentive for solar and other renewable energy customers.
About 1,400 Idahoans are enrolled in the system, primarily with rooftop solar panels. But Idaho Power has said the current system was not designed to account for homeowners who installed their own solar panels — resulting in traditional power customers being forced to make up any budget shortfalls.
Nationally, many other states are also considering net metering policy changes as usage in the system has increased.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, net-metered solar saw significant growth in 2015, adding over 2,100 megawatts in generation capacity. This is the fourth consecutive year of annual growth above 50 percent.
So far, fear of Idaho Power's net meter request has already attracted dozens of public comments from citizens concerned about the chilling effect this might have for future interest in renewable energy.
"This new rate schedule will dissuade potential providers of solar power to Idaho Power Co., which is harmful not only to those providers but the Idaho population in general," wrote Johnny Galgano of Hailey, who warned he would remove himself from the grid and use a battery system if the commission approved the request.
Meanwhile, 10 separate entities have asked the commission to intervene in the case — including the Sierra Club, the Idaho Conservation League, and the city of Boise.
"The changes proposed in this matter could have a swift, deleterious effect on the solar installation industry, and render home and building improvements made by the petitioner and Boise city residents less productive," wrote Abigail Germaine, Boise's deputy city attorney. "The outcome of this proceeding affects environmental, health, and economic concerns of Boise city and its citizens."
The PUC's hearing is March 9.