Minnesota regulators to review solar charges by rural co-ops
- Minnesota utility regulators opened a review last week to look into rural electric cooperatives' grid connection fees for rooftop solar following complaints from the solar industry, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
- The solar industry protested the size of the monthly fees, noting one as high as $85, saying the median is usually $35 while investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy charge a $5 monthly fee. The Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) disputed the size of the fees, saying they are usually $20-25.
- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said all new charges must be approved by them, though the rural electric co-ops can keep the current charges during the review.
A very familiar debate over rooftop solar is shaping up in Minnesota.
Minnesota's rural co-ops came under fire earlier this year for tacking on higher fees for rooftop solar systems connecting to the grid. Though not a fixed fee or a push to roll back net metering credits—two common utility approaches in debates over rooftop solar—the higher connection fees have spurred backlash from solar customers and are now under review by the PUC.
A state law passed last year allowed rural electric cooperatives to charge higher fees aimed at recouping fixed costs on systems 40 kW or less. But now solar industry stakeholders say the higher fees are prohibitive for the proliferation of solar systems, and co-ops are using the fees to recover lost revenue.
But the rural co-ops argue the solar users are using the grid as a "backup battery."
"They are using the grid differently," Jim Horan, a lawyer for the MREA, a trade group for 45 co-ops told the news outlet. "They are using the grid as a backup battery system."
The co-ops' relatively small consumer bases are spread over wide areas, meaning the co-ops have higher fixed costs per customer compared to their IOU counterparts, Horan added.
Meanwhile, the MREA is also protesting how the PUC opened the review, saying state regulators have no jurisdiction over the connection fees. Rural electric co-ops in the state are not required to have PUC approval for general rate cases, unlike IOUs. The PUC said that Minnesota's state energy conservation law gives them the authority to review the solar connection fees, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune Regulators to review fees on residential solar arrays
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