Struggle for power: Rate changes for solar power rescinded

This graphic shows the projected effects of current power rates versus the proposed rates. (Hannah McCulloch)

In a city council meeting on Oct. 18, the solar fee ordinance Mayor John Curtis veto was rescinded.

The city council created the ordinance by the request of Provo Power and voted on it Oct. 4, 2016. Council members passed the ordinance with a 4-3 vote.

Dave Sewell, who voted against the ordinance, said he is hoping for a revision because he feels not all possible options have been explored.

“I felt like the solar community, including potential solar customers and solar power companies weren’t involved enough,” Sewell said.

Revising the ordinance could take another three months. When asked why he vetoed, Curtis said he felt the ordinance demonstrated anti-solar tendencies. Curtis wants it to be clear that Provo is an environmentally friendly city, and he felt this ordinance doesn’t reflect that.

“The council came up with a solution that was kind of branded as a ‘solar tax,'” Curtis said. “It feels very penalizing and kind of sends a message that we don’t like solar.”

Curtis was quick to say the purpose behind the “solar tax” was to resolve a lack of equity between the 0.5 percent of the population using solar and the other 99.5 percent.

Provo Power also wrote an open letter to Provo residents, which can be read on its Facebook page. The letter explained the proposed ordinance and the reasons behind it, stating that Provo Power is also a supporter of solar power.

However, Provo Power wrote, its customers are the most important thing to them. The power grid everybody is a part of is maintained by fees residents pay.

Solar-power users pay less overall, resulting in a loss of revenue and a greater financial burden for people who do not use solar power. This has to do with “net metering.” To explain the concept of net metering, Provo Power attached an informational video to its letter.

The purpose of the ordinance, which would apply a $3-per-kilowatt-grid access fee to rooftop solar customers, is to equalize costs across the board for Provo residents. Without this fee, Provo Power said other customers would have to shoulder the additional costs.

Council member Dave Knecht said he voted for the ordinance because he wants to maintain the power grid and make sure the maintenance doesn’t result in monetary loss.

“We voted for it to make sure that those using the power grid were actually paying something to use it,” Knecht said.

Knecht said of the mayor’s veto that Curtis has to do what he feels is right and that Knecht and the other council members will do what they feel is right.

Now that the ordinance has been rescinded, the Provo City Council tweeted a committee will be formed to study the issue and report back Feb. 7.

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