Letter to the Editor: Coal versus solar energy, call to action

Stock image, St. George New

OPINION — The Utah Public Service Commission will hold its final set of hearings this week on the value of rooftop solar power in Utah.

With the growing popularity of rooftop solar, monopoly utilities like Rocky Mountain Power increasingly view renewable energy generation as lost revenue to corporate stockholders. RMP is lobbying the PSC for permission to implement a rate increase on solar customers in order to discourage further investment in solar energy.

RMP argues that those who have invested in renewable energy to reduce or eliminate their power bill no longer pay enough for operating costs.

This simplistic view ignores many benefits that solar provides to the power company and all ratepayers. Rooftop solar power is produced and consumed in the neighborhood, this prevents long distance transmission line power losses and reduces strain on the grid.

Solar panels produce electricity most efficiently near peak load periods, resulting in a smoother demand curve helping to prevent power outages. Solar providers have invested their own money to put the sun’s energy into the electrical grid lessening the need to invest in additional power plants.

Perhaps the greatest value of solar has been judged irrelevant. During previous hearings, RMP lawyers argued, and the PSC agreed that environmental benefits of solar and other renewable energy sources are unquantifiable and should not be a factor in these proceedings. Ironically the new federal Clean Power Plan does just that by placing pollution limits on power companies at 870 million tons.

Americans increasingly understand the environmental, health and other social advantages of switching from fossil fuels to renewables. The fossil fuel industry denies these impacts and refuses to take responsibility for the harm it is causing. Will the PSC be a party to this denial?

Citizens can voice their support for clean, solar energy on Thursday, Oct. 8. at the Heber M. Wells Building, 160 E. 300 South, in Salt Lake City. There’s a rally at 4 p.m. followed by an open public hearing at 5 p.m.

You can comment to the Public Service Commission: psc@utah.gov

Subject: Docket 14-035-114

More details are available online.

Submitted by Richard A. Petty, Salt Lake City

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them; they do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News.

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12 Comments

  • BIG GUY October 7, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Mr. Petty is the one making simplistic arguments. There are real costs for operating and maintaining the power grid that serves all customers, including those with solar power installations who need the grid and the power company for over half of every day. Solar power does indeed lower peak demand and thereby lessens the need for additional power plants. That is a future cost saving, not a reason to subsidize today’s solar users in excess of their contributions.
    .
    Bottom line: we all need to recognize the two components of our power bills. All users need to pay for operating and maintaining the power distribution grid while solar power providers deserve compensation for the power they supply during sunny daylight hours.

    • Ankana October 7, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Did you read the article? There were multiple benefits listed: less power loss over transmission lines, lower peak loads, less need for infrastructure. There are others that were not listed: environmental and health issues, less vulnerable to fuel price volatility. Besides there are 800,000 residential power consumers/ 3000 NEM customers. Do the math… If you want to talk “fair share” explain to me how a rural power user with hundreds of miles of transmission wires between them and the nearest power source can pay the same rate as someone near a power plant. Your argument is the same one sided crap ALEC is using to screw everybody including you. Renewable resources are the BEST way to keep money in the public pockets and that is why the power companies are fighting to squelch it. By the way, Brekshire-Hathaway and Warren Buffett say thank you for your support.

      • BIG GUY October 7, 2015 at 4:47 pm

        ANKANA, did you read my post? Readers need to understand that Mr. Petty is a solar power advocate and is making a very one sided argument. My comment was intended to point out the need for all users to cover transmission grid expenses, not to defend Rocky Mountain Power. Here is my response to your arguments:
        .
        Transmission losses run about 6% for long distance power transmission. Base load power plants will always be needed since solar is only available when the sun shines. These plants are usually located near their fuel sources to reduce fuel transportation costs. Further, most of us would prefer not to have a nuclear, coal or gas fired power plant in our community. Hence transmission losses are the cost of these remote locations and are usually less than fuel transportation costs.
        .
        I clearly acknowledged the fact that solar reduces peak power needs, reducing the need for peak load infrastructure. You missed that in my comment.
        .
        Environmental and health issues are very hard to quantify. Nevertheless, solar power does make a contribution since it reduces the peak power capacity needed from other sources. That contribution is modest and always will be: the sun is not available 24/7.
        .
        Public utility commissions set power rates, not RMP. Commissions generally don’t allow differential rates based on distance. This approach is analogous to school districts collecting property taxes from all citizens rather than charging parents per child. Likewise parents don’t pay for school buses based on distance from school. Suburban and rural citizens don’t pay higher taxes for the longer roads they require since they are farther from city center. Citizens don’t pay for trash removal by the pound. And so on. Arguments can be made either way for allocating these costs, but “one size fits all” has a long track record in this country.
        .
        You misinterpret Mr. Petty’s argument and Rocky Mountain Power’s position. Both St. George and Santa Clara have recently taken steps to ensure that all power users pay the cost of maintaining the local transmission grid. Rocky Mountain Power is asking the Utah Public Service Commission for the same since, unlike a government entity, it cannot set rates on its own. Mr. Petty is not claiming that RMP is requesting an unfair amount; instead he is arguing against ANY transmission grid cost allocation to solar power providers which defies logic. I defend the need for all users to pay for the transmission grid.
        .
        There are some excellent replies from others below: I suggest you read them.

  • Brian October 7, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for the letter, Richard. I’m sick of big corporations being in bed with big government. Neither serve the people. My plan is to go off-grid in stages. I’m working on getting solar panels, a battery (still research this, as it is rapidly changing), and an inverter. I’ll slowly move circuits, one at a time, over to this off-grid system until I find a place where I’m using 60% or so of the capacity of that system. Maybe it’s only 3 or 4 of my circuits. Those circuits will then be off-grid, reducing my energy consumption (and hopefully pushing me out of the higher priced third-tier energy usage) and giving me continuous power even during power outages or emergencies. Then I’ll add a second array, battery bank, and inverter and do it again with 3 or 4 more circuits. Ultimately I hope to go completely off-grid with this, with AC and large appliances being the final big leap, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy many of the benefits (redundancy, reduced costs, greater self-reliance, etc) while still benefiting from technological leaps as they come. I’m looking into geothermal options to get off of AC.

    • wilbur October 7, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Might want to get an electrical engineer to check over your current andfutureplans for proper design,especially grounding andisolation.

      Also, power companies have a real problem trying to deal with power outages, and discovering customers have live circuits out there still trying to power “the grid”. Injure one of their people with your stuff, and you will have real problems on your hands.

      Nothing wrong with your goal, but be smart about it.

  • barrie st george October 7, 2015 at 11:36 am

    http://www.mineralseducationcoalition.org/sites/default/files/uploads/mec_fact_sheet_solar_panel_0.pdf

    Check out this link to see what goes into “clean” solar energy.

  • xtbjeff October 7, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Our electric bill is comprised of three main parts – the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure required to deliver the electricity to your home, the cost of the fuel required to run the generators, and some profit for the company and its investors.

    Solar power is wonderful in that it converts energy from the sun directly into something we can use. But that just addresses the fuel portion of the electric bill. We still need the infrastructure to provide us electricity when the sun isn’t shining, including even daytime on cloudy days.

    While solar energy output peaks during the summer when our air conditioning load is highest, the daily cycle is somewhat shifted. Maximum solar output occurs when the angle between the sun and collector is near 90 degrees and the atmospheric dispersion is minimal. That occurs in the early afternoon. But because the heat load continues to build throughout the day, maximum electrical consumption is actually in late afternoon just before businesses begin shutting down for the day.

    The bottom line is that unless a homeowner solar system contains sufficient excess capacity and storage to cover electrical demands when the sun isn’t shining, support from the electrical company is still necessary. The net savings is the reduction in fuel consumed when the solar system is providing the energy. So any compensation to the homeowner for energy delivered to the system should be based on the fuel savings, not the entire cost of delivering each kilowatt hour of energy to the home.

  • Knot October 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Look at this from another standpoint – If many households go to solar power and RMP doesn’t charge them for the connection so they pay there share of the grid expenses, then that expense would be put on who? It would be put onto the people without alternative power.

    Now since this would be a nice deal for alternative power customers, that would leave the poor people in a bind. Let’s face it, the people who can afford to set up alternative power sources are people with a few bucks at their disposal. This would leave the people who are poor to pay for the grid by themselves. The power company can either charge the folks with alternative power or the government will end up subsidizing the power company and the poor. Someone has to pay the expenses of keeping the grid viable.

    • Transport1 October 8, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Sounds like a socialist Obama supporter to me. In other words if I can’t pay my fair share everyone else better take care of me.

  • Ankana October 7, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    When the sun is not shining NEM customers pay the same amount as everyone else for electricity. How is this different from someone who buys “watt smart” appliances? If a NEM installation produces more energy than they use during the year the power company confiscates their surplus, donates them to their low income program and takes a tax deduction. Tell me how that is fair. Your argument that these people who have paid 10-20 thousand to install solar
    do not pay for infrastructure is false. As I said before, there are many benefits to All RATE PAYERS but obviously the power companies and ALEC have done a great job with their propaganda and have many created many tools to support it.

    • BIG GUY October 8, 2015 at 7:04 am

      ANKANA, by your logic, if a NEM customer returns as much excess energy to the local grid when the sun shines as he/she uses the rest of the day, then the user would pay zero for power. And yet the NEM user depends completely on the local grid for returning power during the day and using power at night. The rest of us would bear the burden of paying for the grid while the NEM user gets off scot-free. Is this fair?
      .
      Suppose everyone became a NEM customer, hoping to pay nothing for power. Who would use the excess daytime power? Who would pay to operate and maintain the grid? Common sense dictates a minimum fee to operate and maintain the power distribution grid for all users .

  • Ankana October 9, 2015 at 8:28 am

    less than 3000 NEM customers/ More than 800,000 non NEM customers.
    .00375 of you bill so if your electric bill is $100/mo the subsidy would be 3/8 of a penny. They want to charge us $5/mo. Is this fair?
    It is clear that you have swallowed the fossil fuel propaganda and that you are blind to anything but their view. I pointed out several ways that the company and ALL ratepayers would benefit but you continue to argue the company line.
    Let’s say I follow your ridiculous logic and say that somehow the 3000 out of 800,000 somehow miraculously became 800,000 overnight, with each one self sufficient. There would be no need for the grid, or the power company or to burn fossil fuels and the world world be a better place. The reality is that solar producers are a tiny minority and the power companies see them as lost revenue. This subsidy crap is a fake scare tactic to convince people who cant think for themselves. The real reason for this is to throw an element of uncertainty into the mix to discourage people from investing thousands of dollars for solar systems. Enjoy your dirty air.

    Here is a quote from a 2010 Synapse study titled “Co­Benefits of Energy Efficiency
    and Renewable Energy in Utah. Funded in part by The Office of Consumer Services
    and the Division of Public Utilities.
    “In our analysis, we estimate that fossil power generation in Utah today:
    Consumes about 73,800 acre feet, or 24 billion gallons, of fresh water per year.
    Results in 202 premature deaths per year;
    Contributes to 154 hospital visits per year for respiratory injuries, and 175
    asthma ­related emergency room visits each year.
    We estimate that the health and water impacts from Utah fossil power generation have
    a monetary value of between $1.7 and $2.0 billion dollars per year.”

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