Idaho Power supports rooftop solar — but wants to ensure fair prices for everyone

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Would you pay $10 — or even $5 — for something that may only be worth $2?

Most of us would say no. We are willing to pay our share, but we expect prices to be fair.

This is the question at the heart of an Idaho Power case before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission involving customers who generate their own power — usually with solar panels.

Solar is a great energy source when we can pay the right price for it. Idaho Power is concerned that a current pricing policy, called net metering, leads to overcompensating customers who send solar energy back to the grid, which leads to higher costs for all customers.

There is no doubt that solar power is and will continue to be an important part of Idaho Power’s energy mix. In fact, as part of our goal to produce 100% clean energy by 2045, we will soon begin buying the output from a 120-megawatt solar facility near Twin Falls called Jackpot Solar. We’ll start off by paying less than 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for this energy, making the price right for our customers.

How much do we pay residential customers for their extra solar power? Today it’s around 10 cents per kWh — that’s almost five times more than we’ll be paying for solar energy produced by Jackpot Solar.

The IPUC asked Idaho Power to quantify the financial benefits and costs of the current net metering policy. The policy hasn’t been updated in nearly two decades, a time period that saw the cost of solar decrease substantially. The case before the IPUC is about the value of energy that should be paid to customers with rooftop solar, not whether solar should be installed on homes or businesses.

The results of the study show net metering customers are overpaid for excess energy, which creates a subsidy paid for by the rest of our customers. Idaho Power’s goal is to find a fair value for that excess energy so we can continue providing reliable, affordable, clean energy to all customers at prices 20–30% below the national average.

Solar and environmental groups funded a second study that claims customers who generate their own power should be credited 18 cents — nearly double the current credit and eight times more than Idaho Power is paying for solar energy from Jackpot Solar.

When there are cost shifts, who pays the difference? Ultimately, our other customers do. That might mean you. So we’re working to update our policies so the 2% of our customers who have solar panels aren’t being subsidized by the 98% who don’t. Solar for some shouldn’t compromise affordability for all.

Theresa Drake is Idaho Power’s senior manager for customer relations and energy efficiency.