Political solar news roundup: Utah net metering fight, ITC case stalls Minn. PV plant, SEIA adds to board

Utah rooftop solar installs in standstill

utah net metering solar

The Utah rooftop solar rate debate is reaching its peak, and thus creating uncertainty in the local market. Last November, Rocky Mountain Power proposed charging solar rooftop customers installation fees and nearly triple monthly customer charges and peak-time usage, which the solar industry and solar adopters objected to. The proposal will now be considered over the next two weeks by the Utah Public Service Commission in two hearings – one for public input and one to consider the proposal.

As the Spectrum reports, the same arguments are being put forth that are always put forth.
In a study supporting the measure, RMP researchers suggest the typical rooftop solar customer underpays their actual cost of service by about $400 per year, and with an estimated 20,000 rooftop solar customers it amounts to millions statewide that other customers must pay to make up the difference.

People with solar systems on their homes typically stay connected to the power grid, allowing them to purchase power from the utility as needed or to sell off any excess power generated back to the utility.

But RMP authors argue the utility pays full retail price for the solar-produced power, meaning that solar customers aren’t being charged equitably for capital investments or infrastructure like work crews and power lines. The buyback rate from rooftop is sometimes three times the rate the utility pays for solar from large-scale facilities.

And then the same counters are being countered by solar advocates.

Utah Clean Energy, a Salt Lake City-area think-tank, produced its own analysis of RMP’s numbers and concluded that the utility was undervaluing solar’s benefits, leaving out the fact that generation taking place on rooftops doesn’t need to be done elsewhere, lowering transmission costs and the demands for new generation facilities. The analysis concludes rooftop solar customers are actually saving the utility $1.3 million annually.

And just like its neighbor Nevada, solar adopters are preparing for the rug to be pulled out from under them.

Solar companies and their customers fear higher costs will slow the booming industry and community benefits, like cleaner air. Among them are the Searles, who scraped up the money last year to put 14 solar panels on their modest home in Rose Park.

Erin Searles says a rate hike now would undercut their investment.
“It’s kind of a punch in the gut, honestly,” she says. “You know, we did this for the right reasons. It’s, it’s completely unfair.”

Solar panel manufacturer unsure about Minnesota investment now

The Suniva trade petition hearings draw near. You can prep yourself with all of our previous coverage here:

Suniva case watch: SEIA sends out four ways you can help this week

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

SEIA explains plan to lead fight against Suniva petition, remedies for the future

But we travel to Minnesota where Heliene Inc., a Canadian manufacturer that just opened a state-side manufacturing plant in a jobs-starved former mining region – or at least they hope to do so, still. Much will depend on the ITC ruling.

From the Star Tribune:

The Iron Range is no stranger to trade disputes. Usually it’s on the other side, trying to stop cheap foreign steel from glutting the market. The region is only just beginning to fight its way back from a recent market slump that idled half of its mines and threw thousands of people out of work.

“I’d much rather see our friends in Canada helping out” with a new business on the Range “than some of our foreign competitors who have flooded the market with solar in the past,” said state Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who signed on to a letter to the ITC in July against the tariffs. “We’re excited for the opportunity to make solar manufacturing work up here on the Iron Range.”

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board hopes to invest $10 million on new equipment for the plant, which eventually would employ 25 to 70 workers.

SEIA adds to board of directors


Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has added three companies to its board of directors:

  • Tradewind Energy, Inc., a Kansas City-based developer of utility scale wind and solar projects,
  • DEPCOM Power, a development, engineering, procurement, construction, operation and maintenance company for utility-scale solar and
  • McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., a national general contractor.

“The addition of these three great companies is another strong indication that the broader solar industry is stepping up to fight for this industry’s future,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “At a time when the solar industry is both enjoying significant growth and facing a trade challenge, DEPCOM, McCarthy and Tradewind Energy are making an important contribution to the whole industry, and we are thrilled to have them on board.”

Tradewind is actively developing wind and solar sites in 22 states throughout the central and eastern regions of the U.S. The company was started in 2003 and has become one of the largest independent renewable energy developers in the country.

Founded in 2013, DEPCOM Power is a “Buy America Products First”, “Hire Military Veterans First” and “Donate 10% Net Income to Charity” company leveraging a highly experienced team of solar industry veterans.

One of the oldest American-owned construction companies, McCarthy Building Companies has been helping this great nation grow project by project, delivering facilities that communities rely on and building up neighborhoods by helping those in need.

— Solar Builder magazine

Update: Utah solar customers avoid rate changes for now

solar installs utah

Look how happy everyone is.

Last week, we provided an update on some of the net metering debates around the country. Here is what we said about Utah:

Following the example of its backward-thinking neighbors (see: Nevada, Arizona), Utah’s investor-owned utility Rocky Mountain Power (another Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary), has proposed a series of fixed charges on rooftop PV owners, which would have similarly disastrous effects on the rooftop solar industry in that state.

Under its plan, residential panel owners would be subject to three monthly charges: a $15 fixed fee, a $9.02-per-kilowatt-hour levy on consumers’ peak monthly electricity use and 3.81-cent-per-kilowatt charge on total energy use. It also proposes a $60 fee for residential solar applications.

Well, as an update to that update, this rate change request was suspended by Rocky Mountain Power. The scene in Utah over the weekend:

According to KSL.com, the solar industry was advocating for such a move, but in the end, Rocky Mountain Power decided on its own that more discussion was needed and requested its filing be suspended.

“Over the course of the past week, the company has been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders to engage in further dialogue and explore mutually acceptable resolutions,” wrote Jeffrey K. Larsen, vice president of regulation for Rocky Mountain Power in the request to the commission. Based on the current status of the meetings and in an effort to foster further discussion, the company recommends the commission exercise its statutory prerogative to suspend the tariff filing.”


From KSL.com:

A month ago, Rocky Mountain Power proposed a trifecta of new charges for solar customers, arguing that its nonsolar customer base is subsidizing solar energy producers at a cost of $6.5 million a year. While Rocky Mountain Power did not seek to have any of those new charges apply to current rooftop solar customers, it did want anyone who buys a system after Dec. 9 to be on notice that those charges could apply.

The solar industry said that rushed Dec. 9 deadline created a chilling effect on customers, chasing them away because of confusion over what the end result may look like on their utility bill. Members of the Public Service Commission will not weigh the proposed rate changes until August, setting aside a weeklong hearing to hear the arguments for and against new fees for solar customers.


— Solar Builder magazine

Take a look at Utah’s largest privately owned solar array

Utah solar array

Rio Tinto Stadium, the home of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake as well as the USL Real Monarchs, flipped the ceremonial switch on the state of Utah’s largest privately-owned solar array. The 2-MW system was installed by Auric Solar. (Lots of pics at the end of the story).

The solar panels will offset 73 percent of Real Salt Lake’s total annual stadium power needs – the largest offset in North American professional sports and entertainment venues. The ambitious project was initiated in April 2015 and took six months to complete.

Nearly 95 percent of the solar array (made up of 6,423 solar panels) has been installed on new solar-covered parking structures, including an entirely new parking lot on the north side of the stadium. Covering the equivalent of 3.10 acres, the aggregation of the panels would cover 2.3 American football fields, 1.3 FIFA regulation soccer fields, extending 7.9 miles or 41,500 feet if stacked end-to-end.

“This project has positioned Real Salt Lake at the forefront of energy production and conservation in all of professional sports,” said Jess Phillips, principal of Auric Solar. “Auric Solar is helping the club harness the power of the sun to reduce its power consumption on a grand scale. It is impressive and ambitious to see the organization’s commitment to the community and environment.”

RELATED: Utah gets second largest solar array thanks to Affordable Solar, Sun Edison 

Yaskawa – Solectria Solar, a U.S. PV inverter manufacturer, provided its PVI 28TL inverters to Russell Pacific and Auric Solar for the project.

“Auric Solar’s expertise and innovation have made them the perfect partners to convert Rio Tinto Stadium toward energy self-sufficiency in the venue’s seventh year, while also improving our fan experience with the addition of covered and lit parking,” said Andrew Carroll, chief business officer for Real Salt Lake. “Our unique ability to assist Auric Solar in building brand awareness, both locally and across the industry, makes this partnership fully-integrated, mutually-beneficial, and uniquely symbiotic. The entire Auric team – led by founders Trent Vansice and Jess Phillips – consists of great people, providing all of the ingredients for an exceptional long-term partnership.”

Auric Solar is a leading provider of clean, reliable and renewable solar power. The Utah-based company began in 2010 and specializes in renewable energy solutions for residential and commercial properties. Auric Solar manages every aspect of a project’s lifecycle, including site analysis, custom design, installation, financing, operations and maintenance. The company is one of the fastest growing in the country with an average year over year growth of 173 percent.

Founded in May 2009 by industry veterans, Russell Pacific is committed to providing a distribution solution for solar installers and integrators navigating the emerging solar market.

Utah solar array

Utah solar array

Utah solar array

Utah solar array


— Solar Builder magazine