Cost/Benefit ALEC style, or for the people?

Rocky Mountain Power continues to push the ALEC and Koch brothers agenda with a solar tax that has been talked about for several months now.

The fee, proposed by RMP, is aimed either at the 2000 or so customers who are trying to either shrink their power bill, or even add to the power grid, or it is aimed at killing Americas fastest growing method of generating power. Guess what the PR people say? “It’s not a tax on solar. It’s not a disincentive,” said Bramble, ALEC flack and Business As Usual defender, sorry, R-Provo.

The problem is that the energy companies have already started down the road of screwing over individuals, and supporting companies. In that sense they are a true American patriot. The problem begins with Net Metering. Net metering was sold to the public as a way to encourage solar (and some other eco friendly generation methods) installs and green up the power grid. The way it works is simple: if you generate power in some way, in this case solar, any extra power you generate gets applied to your next bill. So if I use 600 kWhs of power this month, but my solar panels make 650 kWhs of electricity, I have 50 kWhs added to the next month as a credit. Sounds like a great reason to install solar, doesn’t it?

But the catch (you knew there would be one) is that the power is figured over a year. And I lose the extra at time. That is, if I use 7000 kWhs of power over the year, but make 7500, RMP collects that extra 500 at the end of the year for free, resets my bill to zero, and we start again.

What is the practical outcome of this? I can’t speak for the average customer, but I can tell you what it meant at my house. We have room on our roof for between 6 and 7 kWhs of solar installation. But given the position and facing of my house, and our power usage, 4.5-5 kWhs of solar should be enough to cover us. We would use more and make less in the winter, but generate more and use less in the summer. All total it would come out even. If RMP had to pay for extra power generation however, I would install the maximum my roof could handle. I am happy to generate some extra power for my neighbor to use if RMP wants to pay me for that power.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not expecting them to pay me the rate they charge me. I would be happy with them paying me the average of the cost they get their power from other generation sources. If they charge the neighbor $0.11 a kWh but buy power from some dirty coal plant at $0.05 a kWh, the power I make above my own usage could be payed for at that lower rate. The key is that it is payed for at all.

However because of the Net Metering system they pushed for, it is in the best interest economically for people to try to generate 99.999% of their power usage. So rather than install 7 kWhs of solar, we installed 4. We could be generating extra power for the grid during peak usage hours, but RMP created a disincentive for us to be helpful.

Now if they had payed customers who generate power and made it worth my money to make extra, they could have extra power generation. Instead they have 2000 some odd customers who are adding to the grid during the day and pulling from it at night, creating wear and tear, without the extra power that might have benefited us all. So now they want to charge solar panel users extra for that wear.

Except I see no reason to play nice with a company already trying to screw me over.

Plus, they already charge for that line usage wear. My power usage in May was -38kWh. I made power for the grid last month. And yet I still sent a check to RMP last month. Because even if you make extra power, there is a fee already in place on your bill, that you have to pay for exactly the line maintenance the company is bitching about someone needing to pay for.

They just want to be payed twice for the same service.

That shouldn’t be unexpected. For years RMP offered a “green wash” program called Blue Sky. For the privilege of paying extra each month, many customers got to buy renewable generated energy. The problem, again, was the selling of the program verses the reality. When the program was sold to me, the push was to encourage green energy in my own state. “Yes it costs more,” I was told “but it is a way of changing behavior by putting your money where your mouth is. Pay a little more as a way of saying that you support renewable energy, and we will get the message and invest in green energy and green jobs right here in the state!”

Except they didn’t. Instead they bought green energy credits from other states.

Yes, I want to see more renewable power world wide, and nation wide, and I support that. But I am spending the extra money here at home for a reason. Anyone who actually walks outside in the winter knows exactly how bad the local inversion can be, and generating our power from any renewable source is one way to combat that haze and filth.

…unless the power is still generated from coal here, and the “renewable” part of the equation is just a credit from a solar plant in another state.

So with RMP having screwed over my attempt to be a good neighbor and citizen, I cancelled the Blue Sky program and installed solar panels. Damned if they didn’t immediately start trying to screw us over there too.

More than 35,000 RMP customers pay extra each month to Blue Sky, in effect saying they want, and are willing to pay for, greener energy. Instead they are being sold a lie. Not a huge lie, just a little white lie. The program does good things, and I don’t want anyone to mistake what I am saying. But I am willing to bet those 35,000 customers would rather see the extra money they pay go to generating green energy right here. I bet they would rather see more jobs right here in their state, and less pollution on their own skyline.

It seems like a safe bet too. A 2011 survey of Utahns found 53% said they are willing to pay an extra $10 a month to ensure more of their power was from renewable sources, and a 2007 survey said that 85% of Utahns thought switching to local renewable sources was a good idea.

However the rules that RMP already has in place are keeping the money that these customers are spending from driving growth in that area.

The real sign that the solar panel fee RMP is suggesting is not a simple rate or usage adjustment is where ALEC comes in. The RMP bill that was taken to the legislature is nearly identical to the ALEC model legislation about the same issue. Suddenly this becomes a matter of following the money. Huge money. Money donated by the Koch brothers, whose own fortunes come from oil wealth, and who have happily used the ALEC model bills to push for destroying clean energy standards in the past.

How bad is ALEC? John Eick of ALEC told the Guardian last year that solar panel owners are “essentially free riders on the system.”

Walk through that again. If you generate power from solar, and feed that solar back into the system so that extra power can be used by your neighbors, or the local grocery store, or the factory across town, and you further pay the already existing fees to maintain the infrastructure, and your power is generated during peak usage, easing the load on the grid, you are a free rider.

We haven’t even mentioned the very simple fact that as things stand right now the coal plant generated electricity that most Utahns are running on is using the local breathable (at least when there is no inversion) air as their dumping ground. For free. They are just just good American job creators. People who generate their own power are free riders.

And yet people listen to the asshats at ALEC.

Certainly RMP gets their ideas from ALEC. As noted by Utah Clean Energy, when RMP submitted their analysis of the solar “problem,” the entire case was presented as lost revenue, with no attempt at all to even look for benefits to the system.”

To be fair, at least RMP hasn’t started running anti-solar ads like the Arizona utility companies. Yet.

Myself, I am happy to see RMP impose this fee. That is, as soon as we start charging them a reasonable fee for using the Wasatch Fronts air as a sewer. Since Utah is 7th in the nation for potential solar power, but RMP insists on using coal, they need to be charged for it. Once the true cost of coal is hitting end consumers the growth in Utah for rooftop solar should be astronomical. If I recall, a state sponsored study back in the day said Utah wastes at least 2 billion a year in health and water clean up costs due to coal power generation. Split that over the population of the state a let RMP pay me back for what they are costing me in personal health and then we can talk.

Then maybe RMP can have their way and charge for line usage.

  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on June 17, 2014 - 3:20 pm

    Thanks for the detailed analysis. I always suspected the “Blue Sky” program was BS, because the whole concept of paying extra for wind/solar was counter-intuitive. Whose interest is served by promoting the false idea that renewable energy costs more?

    I think the proposed fee is just $4 a month, however I suspect the intent is to get it established – they can always raise the fee later. I expect that just the existence of an extra fee would discourage new solar installation.

  2. #2 by Shane Smith on June 17, 2014 - 4:15 pm

    Depending on the location, proposed fees have been from $5 to $100 a month.

    The Arizona fee was per kWh if i remember correctly, and they saw a year to year drop in solar permits of about 42% right after the fee passed. It is not only about getting the fee and raising it later, but also about the psychology of the fee. Getting a tax credit to install lures many people even if it is not economical (though it is right now even without credits) and paying a fee stops many people, even when the fee is reasonable.

    For me, the real issue is the many tiny barriers that prevent people from doing something that is in the good of the general public.

    If the cost of nuclear energy was laid out in 20 small fees rather than a government supported program that hides the taxes you pay to support it, people would protest nuclear.

    Solar on the other hand has the potential to disperse the grid, easing wear and stress on the system, as well as making people watch what they make and use. Several studies found that installing the mpg gauge in cars made drivers handle cars in a more fuel efficient way. Installing a similar gauge for power in a place everyone could see it daily may do the same thing. The software some solar systems use is getting close to that.

    Instead, RMP and ALEC want to make sure that when you hear “solar” what your mind registers is “that stuff with the extra fees.”

  3. #3 by cav on June 17, 2014 - 4:15 pm

    It comes down to whether you even maintain a link to the local grid or have to incur the added expense of a battery pack.

  4. #4 by cav on June 17, 2014 - 4:16 pm

    I’m hating this comment system, If my stuff is longer than a single sentence…no go. Grr

  5. #5 by cav on June 17, 2014 - 4:18 pm

    Oh, and, great post Mr. Smith.

  6. #6 by Shane Smith on June 17, 2014 - 4:20 pm

    The problem with the battery pack is that it means I am only helping me when i make power. Just like the net metering issue, I would prefer to make power for my neighbors.

    …that is why I am a “free rider.”

    What are you commenting on cav? What platform/browser/app?

  7. #7 by cav on June 17, 2014 - 4:26 pm


    I’m with you on the community service angle but I can’t write as much.

  8. #8 by grammarian on June 18, 2014 - 8:54 am

    I think you mean “paid” and not “payed”.

    You also confuse the difference between kW and kWh. kW is the capacity of solar panels, and kWh is the amount of energy produced over time.

  9. #9 by Nathan Erkkila on June 18, 2014 - 1:17 pm

    It’s clearly a business incentive. For each house that has solar power, RMP has to pay them. Now they are trying to make it so you pay RMP for installing panels? That’s like taking out a loan and the bank owes you interest.

  10. #10 by Larry Bergan on June 18, 2014 - 9:29 pm

    Amazing post.

    Credible vs Incredible: Credible wins!

  11. #11 by cav on June 22, 2014 - 8:59 am

    Germany gets half their power from solar energy now. We get 2 trillion dollars spent on wars and tap water we can light on fire.

    • #12 by Larry Bergan on June 22, 2014 - 3:52 pm

      Gee, one of our commenters was saying something like 2% of Germany’s power comes from solar energy. Somebody’s lying and I’m sure it’s our commenter.

      America produces 0.2% from solar. USA, USA, USA!!

  12. #13 by cav on June 22, 2014 - 6:45 pm

    So we can fairly say it’s between those two percentages somewhere. 26%?

  13. #14 by Larry Bergan on June 22, 2014 - 7:13 pm

    That’s only if you factor in the “some say this, and some say that” dichotomy. The people who say “this” are juxtaposed with the people who have the money to say “that”.

    Freedom of paid speech carries the day.

  14. #15 by cav on June 25, 2014 - 8:32 pm

    I got a rather pricey sweep of my computer today – so insofar as the problems I’ve been experiencing were aboard my unit, I’m hoping they’re fixed. So this is in part a test.

  15. #16 by Larry Bergan on June 25, 2014 - 9:21 pm

    Comments seem to be going through now. I’ll keep checking.

  16. #17 by Shane on June 25, 2014 - 10:56 pm

    Dear Granny-arian, no, I did not confuse kWh and kW. Since kW are, strictly speaking, a power measure, and panels are often, though not always, explained in terms of the impact they will have the end users powerbill, many install companies have taken to listing panels at their kWh as an average hour production. That makes both kW and kWh wrong. Yet they list them as kWh.

    That isn’t my choice, but frankly it doesn’t matter. You can figure it in calories per decade for all I care.

    Much like the Buddha explaining his thoughts on the afterlife, I will point out that to spend time concerned about such a trivial issue in the face of the topic at hand is much like being shot with a poison arrow, and then quizzing the doctor on the type of arrow, the pattern of the fletching, the angle of entry, and the origin of the poison while you die, rather than allowing him to remove the arrow.

    …but that is your typical MO.

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