Is the Meter Running Out for Solar Power in Idaho? Part 2

Nov 16, 2020

Is the meter running out for solar power in Idaho? Sustainable Idaho continues its investigationof solar power in Idaho. Co-hosts Scott and Rachel speak to the Citizens Climate Lobby andIdaho Power to get to the bottom of what’s been happening with solar power and net-metering.

Credit IdahoPower.com

By Scott Greeves and Rachel McGovern

Last week on Sustainable Idaho we delved into the topic of solar power. We discussed the changes that Idaho Power is proposing to its net-metering program, which is system through which Idaho Power gives credit for any excess energy that a costumer produces. This can be exchanged a later time for electricity.

Last week, we found out that Idaho Power has filed an application to the Public UtilitiesCommission, proposing to modify Schedule 84. We talked with Lisa Young, who is the directorof the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club, and discovered that this modification may remove theeconomic incentive for Idaho farmers to invest in solar systems.

 This is a problem for all of us in Idaho. Agriculture is a crucial part of Idaho’s economy andculture, we should be encouraging energy independence and resilience, not putting up barriers toeffective renewable energy alternatives. 

We also spoke to an experienced Idaho Farmer, John O’Connor. He told us that due to thechanging climate and evolving agricultural demands, we need to adapt and become sustainable toavoid the real cost. The real cost being the potentially catastrophic consequences of a climatecrisis, such as increasing severity and intensity of extreme weather events, including droughts,floods, storms, and temperature change. 

Last week, we heard that the jury is still out on the Public Utilities Commission’s decision onIdaho Power’s net metering modification. There are many environmental and societal benefits ofsolar, that can be overlooked when considering its true value. Solar power represents more thanjust an energy source, it shows that there is an increasing demand for sustainable and affordableenergy generation. However, level of outcry from the public and stakeholders, about theproposed changes to net metering, demonstrates that our community is demanding a moresustainable future.

 This week on sustainable Idaho, we speak to Kayti Didrickson, a longtime member of thefarming community and representative of the Boise Citizens Climate Lobby, to understand therelationship between Idaho Power and farmers. And we get the chance to sit down with IdahoPower and find out their vision for solar in Idaho.

 We asked Kayti Didrickson about the importance of farmers being involved inconsiderations and conversations around climate change.

 “We need to reimagine the green revolution. There are several of us (at the Boise CitizensClimate Lobby) who are interested in how to get agriculture on the radar for climate change. Weneed to provide better incentives for carbon sequestration and renewable energy. We need moreincentives for farmers to make these changes, either through legislation or better farm billsupport”

 To some of us, the idea of solar, on farms, in Idaho may seem unusual. But Kayti doesn’t thinkthis is the case. 

“Well, farmers have changed, there are less and less farms, the farms are larger and larger andfarmers themselves are getting older – and the farmers kids, who are millennials, are takingover.” 

Having a younger demographic involved in farming could be crucial. A recent study by theCitizens Climate Lobby, found that 70% of young conservatives are concerned with ClimateChange. In talking with John O’ Connor (last week) and Kayti Didrickson, it’s clear that Idaho’sfarming landscape is changing. Solar energy has the potential to ensure that this change ispositive, by providing affordable and clean energy. But, as Kayti mentioned, incentives arecrucial in promoting and maintaining the financial viability of sustainable farming. 

One of these incentives is Idaho Power’s net meter program. But, to find out more about thefuture of net metering and sustainable energy generation, we spoke to Theresa Drake, arepresentative for Idaho Power. 

“We do see Solar fitting in very nicely to our plans to exit the coal that we use and continue on apath towards clean energy. It is a viable resource and fits nicely with our portfolio but we arereally concerned with the subsidy for customer generation – we need to make sure it is notburdening those that are not participating from a cost perspective.”

 Basically, Idaho Power is suggesting that solar energy projects may increase everybody’s energycost. But this is the kicker. Idaho Power does not know for sure if solar projects are a financialliability. In fact, they have been asked by the public utilities commission to conduct a study intothe true value of customer produced solar. So, we asked Idaho Power when is this study going tobe completed?

 “It could be as early as the first half of the year next year, in compliance with the order from thecommission. With different stakeholders participating, we need to assess the costs and benefitsof on-site generation to the company system”.

 But at the crux of this issue, Idaho Power is proposing to change its net metering program onDecember 1 st . This change would make future investments in solar uncertain and possibly lessfinancially secure, by suggesting that changes to the credit system may be on the horizon.Advocates for solar energy, such as the Sierra club, that we heard from last week, believe thatIdaho Power should move the December 1 st deadline till after the report is published. It’s arguedthat this change is being proposed without the evidence that solar is negatively impacting energycosts. However, it is important to note that Idaho Power has said that it is committed to 100%clean energy by 2045 

“Solar is a really important part of Idaho Power being able to achieve it’s 100% clean energygoal by 2045. Idaho Power is the only Public Utilities Company (in the USA), that hasvoluntarily set a goal for clean energy on itself. We are really proud of that and serious about it.But we want to consider solar carefully to make sure customers aren’t overburdened with thecost of clean energy.”

 Idaho Power’s goal of producing 100% renewable energy by 2045 is both an admirable butdaunting task. To meet this goal, Idaho Power needs to ramp up its investments or incentives forrenewable energy generation. For instance, farms and business can only install uptown 100kilowatts of solar per meter. However, many farmers feel this is an arbitrary cap, and they needto produce more power to meet their energy requirements. We asked Idaho power about the 100-kilowatt cap. 

“The cap was established a long time ago when Idaho Power set forth to create this serviceoffering for commercial, industrial and irrigation customers, that chose to self-generate. The capwas set by the public utilities commission to help distinguish between small- and large-scaleprojects. The two types of projects are under different pricing structures. We are aware that thisis something that customers are interested in evaluating and we are open to entertainingdiscussion on that.” 

While its clear, that the decision on the net metering program will be influential for solar powerin Idaho, it appears that there is scope for continued dialogue between the public, stakeholders,and Idaho power, surrounding future renewable energy issues. We expected that a decision willbe made by the Public Utilities Commission on the amendments to the net metering program bythe next month.

 Thanks very much too all our guests over the last two episodes, who have helped us explore thetopic of solar power in Idaho. You can list back to these episodes, and other KISU shows onKISU.org. For the next couple of weeks, we will be exploring the ISU sustainability club and thetopic of Salmon in Idaho’s rivers. Catch us next week, on Tuesday morning at 7,35am.