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Idaho study finds solar rates should be lower, which could hurt the solar industry

A roof with solar panels on it.
Jason C. Finn OrangePalmStudio
Idaho Power wants to reduce the rate it pays rooftop solar generators to the rate customers pay for power.

A new study from Idaho Power said it should lower the rate it pays to solar customers who send energy back to the grid. Supporters of solar say this could hurt the industry.

Idaho Power has commissioned a study that finds the rate it pays for rooftop solar customers to send their power back to the grid should be lowered. The energy company sent its study to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for consideration, suggesting net metering rates be cut by roughly 60%.

Alex McKinley, owner of Empowered Solar in Boise, said the state has a great solar resource but a cut in rates would likely hurt efforts to install panels on roofs.

"Their goal as an investor-owned utility is to make profits and they see residential distributed generation as a threat to their profits, and I think that comes out pretty clearly in the way this study was conducted," McKinley said.

Idaho Power said the reduction in rates are a matter of fairness. It said infrastructure costs, for example, are pushed onto other customers at the current net-metering rate. The Idaho PUC is taking public comment on the study's results.

Mike Engle, chair of the Portneuf Resource Council in southeast Idaho, said he doesn't believe the suggested rates will kill the solar industry but notes it will take longer for customers to pay off their systems.

Engle said it would be best to motivate people to move toward rooftop solar with the current rates because it will protect the environment and also support local economies with jobs.

"Idaho Power and the Public Utilities Commission should ensure that all of Idaho's residents have the ability to participate in Idaho Power's goal of migrating to clean energy," Engle said.

Idaho Power has committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2045. Engle is pushing for a third party to evaluate the numbers in Idaho Power's study.

McKinley said Idaho and other states are feeling the pressure from a changing climate, putting strain on energy grids.

"Distributed generation makes the whole grid more resilient and the public, whether they're someone who has rooftop solar or not, wants a more resilient grid," McKinley said.

With Utah Public Radio, I’m Sydney Lasike.

Sydney Lasike graduated from Dixie State University, in St. George, Utah, in 3 years with a bachelors degree in Media Studies (Multimedia Journalism Emphasis). There, she competed as a student-athlete on the women’s volleyball team, and was the Features Editor of the school newspaper, Dixie Sun News. She was awarded the 2021 Media Studies Student of the Year Award, and graduated with Latin Honors - Magna Cum Laude.