- Utah senators last week approved the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act (SB 115), a measure backed by Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) which the utility says will streamline its cost recovery and give it more flexibility.
- But opponents of SB115 say the measure is similar to one passed last year in Nevada, which led to an exodus of clean energy jobs and essentially halted the state's growing solar industry.
- A spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power told Deseret News that opponents misunderstand the law's intent. The utility believes the measure will allow it to boost renewable resources without raising rates.
Solar advocates in Utah are pointing west, trying to convince lawmakers that a piece of clean energy legislationbacked by dominant utility RMP would devastate the state's solar industry just as it did in Nevada.
"It is a way to squash solar generation,"said Kelly Curtis, CEO of Solaroo, told the Deseret News.
Rocky Mountain Power is a subsidary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp, which has been embroiled in constroversy in Utah in its bid to shorten contracts under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) with renewables developers from 20 years to three years. Now it appears to be at the center of more debate over its renewables goals as SB 115 advances through the legislature.
The Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act passed 20-7 and now heads to the House. The measure would allow RMP to implement tariffs to fund a sustainable transportation and energy pilot program and recover 100% of "prudently incurred costs" for clean energy development, including "unrecovered costs" from Utah's solar incentive and surcharge program.
In addition, the utility is allowed to file with the commission a request to open a proceeding on net metering tariffs. The bill will also directs the commission to end the Utah solar incentive program and surcharge tariff, and allow RMP to stop accepting new applications for the solar incentive program by the end of December 2016.
At issue is whether or not the utility is skirting around what is considered Utah's Public Service Commission's purview and going directly through the legislatures.
The Utah Association of Energy Users, which includes industrial and commercial consumers, said last February it is wary of pushing the programs through via state law, as it would bypass the authority of the Public Service Commission.
Utility spokesman Paul Murphy told the newspaper that the bill has been "completely misconstrued."
"Environmentalists should be cheering STEP instead of protesting it," Murphy said. "STEP will improve the air and add additional renewable energy without raising electricity rates."
But Curtis told the paper that the measure is similar to what Nevada passed last year. "Solar City left and took 550 jobs with them, and the total count will be 1,000," he said.
Nevada regulators in December approved a new net metering policy that slashed the retail remuneration rate for net metering customers down to the wholesale rate, created a separate rate class for small commercial and residential solar users, and established a time-of-use pricing option for all customers that will be gradually implemented over four years.