ST. GEORGE – Households and businesses that utilize solar power will likely be hit with a new fee at some point in the new year. In a work meeting Thursday, the St. George City Council gave verbal approval for the creation of a capacity fee related to issues with the city’s net metering policy.
Under the city’s policy, implemented in 2005, the city credits solar power users for the excess power they generate, which is reflected on their following month’s utility bill. If this continues for a consecutive 12 months, the city then issues a check for the amount of the kilowatt hour credit at a rate of 4 cents per kilowatt hour.
Currently, 63 of the city’s 28,000 power customers use solar power, generating about a megawatt of electrical power among them.
Rene Fleming, energy services coordinator for the City of St. George, told the City Council that while solar power users may not pay very much due to the current net metering program, they nonetheless still need and use city power as a backup.
“For various reasons, they still need the utility,” Fleming said.
However, there are also various costs that go along with operating and maintaining that utility that city officials feel may be getting subsidized by regular power customers in this case. As more people consider switching to solar, those costs may not be adequately covered, leaving the city in a sticky situation.
“This is a huge concern for most utilities throughout the country,” Fleming said.
In consideration of this, she said, the city’s Energy Services Department is taking proactive steps in regard to the situation before it gets out of hand.
Currently, anyone connected to the city’s grid pays a $15.65 base rate. To help cover a solar power user’s portion of the utility costs, Fleming recommended that the city charge a capacity fee based on the size of the meter they have.
Fleming said she didn’t expect the rate to be a substantial increase, adding it would likely be under $10. A study to determine how much the capacity fee could be has yet to be undertaken and may take three or more months to complete, she said.
“We all want to be equitable and fair to everyone across the board,” Mayor Jon Pike said concerning the proposed capacity fee.
Members of the City Council also expressed support for the idea.
Converting to solar power has become increasingly popular in recent years as households, businesses and communities look for ways to go green as well as save money on power costs. Aiding in the drive for solar power is the declining cost of solar panels, which dropped about 19 percent in 2013 and continued dropping in 2014, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. On top of that, rebates are offered at the state and federal levels. The federal rebate alone can cover up to 30 percent of the cost.
Initially, St. George approved a handful of solar installations within a year. With that number dramatically increasing, Fleming said, the approval process was temporarily put on hold as city staff considered ways to deal with rising concerns related to the net metering policy.
The City Council gave approval to allow those applications to move forward, with a note given to solar power users that the net metering policy would be changing at some point in the future.
Earlier this week, the Washington City Council also looked at its own net metering policy and approved an amendment clarifying language in the ordinance. They also did away with their city’s solar panel installation rebates.
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