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Ind. consumer advocate opposes Duke Energy solar leasing plan

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Ind. consumer advocate opposes Duke Energy solar leasing plan

Indiana's consumer advocate recommended that state regulators deny Duke Energy Indiana LLC's proposed solar leasing program for nonresidential customers.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, or OUCC, filed testimony Jan. 9 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to support its opposition to the Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary's plan.

"[Duke Energy Indiana, or DEI] has not presented a clear case where the requested relief and the full breadth and potential impacts of its proposed long-term solar leasing and net metering program are readily ascertainable," OUCC utility analyst Lauren Aguilar wrote. "DEI has not supplied evidence in its case-in-chief to know whether the participants are paying too much or too little for this service, which results in an unregulated monopoly in that other entities cannot provide the service DEI is proposing. Therefore the commission cannot be assured other DEI customers or even the participants are not negatively affected."

DEI filed a petition in late September 2018 with the commission for a voluntary solar tariff and leasing program aimed at commercial and industrial customers. DEI said its proposal allows nonresidential customers to have cleaner on-site resources to meet their energy needs.

The combination of all the generation eligible for the voluntary program and subject to the rider will be capped at 12 MW.

DEI, therefore, asked Indiana regulators to approve its alternative regulatory plan or otherwise decline its jurisdiction over the voluntary tariff so the company "does not have to seek separate commission approval for each solar energy facility constructed under this program."

Under the proposed program, each participating customer will pay a tariff that covers the "construction, operation and maintenance" of the on-site solar facility. "All costs associated with the system will be borne by the solar energy services customer, other customers are not subsidizing this service, so there is no need for extensive commission oversight," DEI wrote in its petition.

"Unfortunately, DEI's proposed solar leasing program is structured to deliver financial and public relations benefits to DEI and perhaps a few select customers at the expense of other ratepayers," OUCC senior utility analyst John Haselden wrote. "DEI acknowledged that it is not aware of customers specifically inquiring about the possibility of leasing solar facilities from DEI or agreeing to use net metering."

The consumer advocate said DEI's request is "vague" and "confusing."

"[I]t fails to identify what regulations it is asking the commission to decline to exercise its jurisdiction over through its approval of the proposed [alternative regulatory plan]," Aguilar wrote. (IURC cause number 45145)