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Utah suspends PacifiCorp move to end retail rate for new net metering customers

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Utah suspends PacifiCorp move to end retail rate for new net metering customers

At PacifiCorp's request, Utah regulators suspended the utility's move to abolish its retail rate credit program for new residential net metered customers.

PacifiCorp was on the verge of ending the program for new residential net metering customers in Utah with a Dec. 10 effective date of a new tariff. However, just before the tariff was to take effect the utility asked the Public Service Commission to suspend it pending settlement talks with parties, and the commission promptly ordered the tariff suspension.

Just beforehand, solar developer Sunrun Inc. and the rooftop solar energy advocacy group Energy Freedom Coalition of America on Dec. 9 filed a motion for emergency relief to prevent PacifiCorp's new tariff from taking effect.

Without commission action, the tariff would have taken effect automatically through an advice letter PacifiCorp filed on Nov. 9. Sunrun and the solar coalition said the tariff should be suspended.

"As the deadline for Commission action has become imminent, the focus on the solar industry in Utah has become more intense, with media outlets picking up the story and contributing to the public awareness that a significant change in the rights of net metering customers is at stake with this proceeding," Sunrun and the coalition said.

PacifiCorp had already filed a proposal to increase charges to new solar customers in an ongoing proceeding to examine the costs and benefits of rooftop solar (Utah PSC Docket No. 14-035-114).

Apart from that proceeding the utility concurrently filed its advice letter in a new, separate docket to change the status of new net metered customers so they would fall under any future rates and charges that would be retroactive to Dec. 10 had the advice letter taken effect (Utah PSC Docket No. 16-035-T14).

With the tariff change, PacifiCorp would have closed the currently effective net metering service tariff and replaced it with a "transitional" tariff for customers that apply for net metering after Dec. 9. Sunrun and numerous other parties objected that in effect PacifiCorp was trying to put the cart before the horse.

"The company has no legal or regulatory basis for seeking the changes at this time, well before the commission conducts its determination of the costs and benefits of net metering," Sunrun and the coalition said.

PacifiCorp on Dec. 9 delivered a letter to the commission saying that in response to numerous objections the company asked to suspend the new tariff. The utility said that during the suspension, it would work with stakeholders to seek a mutually acceptable resolution to the tariff change disagreement.

"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 … while interested stakeholders continue to seek mutually acceptable resolutions," Rocky Mountain Power's Vice President of Regulation Jeffrey Larsen said in the letter.

The commission obliged with an order carrying out PacifiCorp's request. Further, the commission said it will await PacifiCorp's notification before holding further proceedings in the advice letter docket, referring to the utility's letter that said it will notify the commission if a stipulation is reached with parties, or if an effort to reach agreement becomes fruitless.

As a Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary, PacifiCorp serves the length and breadth of Utah as the state's dominant electric utility with about 857,000 customers. The solar coalition said 76% of Utahns oppose PacifiCorp's proposal to put new fees on rooftop solar customers.

Solar interests, other parties and individual customers filed numerous comments in opposition to PacifiCorp's move through its advice letter to keep future solar customers from being able to get full retail rate credits for solar power.

PacifiCorp has argued it has found through extensive study there is a dramatic cost shift from solar to nonsolar customers due to the retail rate credit that is still in effect.

By the end of 2013, about 2,200 customers participated in the net metering program in Utah. By the end of 2015, that number had climbed to over 6,700 customers and was expected to reach more than 17,000 by the end of 2016, PacifiCorp said Nov. 9 in applying for a rate change to account for costs and benefits of the program.

For 2015 the net cost for the program was $2 million, or about $38.76 per MWh, according to Nov. 9 testimony from Robert Meredith, PacifiCorp manager of pricing and cost of service.