Provo City is encouraging more residents to install solar power in their homes and charging residents who already have solar power.
Provo City will charge residents with solar power a fixed cost each month to pay for the energy grid itself, including transmission lines and maintenance. The rates were passed in January and implemented in March. This mandate has been controversial.
Provo City Power has begun hosting monthly meetings to discuss the new net metering rules, as well as the logistics of installing solar panels on Provo residents’ homes.
Solar panels generate energy, which then goes into the city’s electricity grid, so the energy they produce isn’t stored for their homes. Net metering is a payment system, solar panel owners will get credit for the energy they feed into the grid, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But Provo’s net metering system does not follow that model.
When a cloudy day comes around, residents will be charged for energy they use that’s not generated by the solar panels. Provo residents say they should get credit for the energy they produce so they don’t have to pay extra for the days when they don’t produce as much energy.
Provo is unique compared to other cities because it has its own power plant.
Mike Lindgren, a lifelong Provo resident, researched Provo’s solar panel net metering system to see if it was an affordable option for him and his retired parents.
He said he decided it wasn’t worth the cost of investing in solar panels for his parents because he didn’t want them to have to pay more for power and it would be too expensive to go off the grid. He said paying off the solar panels would take years.
“The City of Provo does not buy back enough to make it worthwhile,” Lindren said. “It actually adds several years on top of it and makes it so what they’re paying is already more than what they’re going to be paying for their power in the end.”
He said it seems Provo is more about making money for the city than serving the residents of the city because the high cost of installing solar panels and the fixed monthly cost make getting solar power in Provo “next to impossible.”
Lindgren said he thinks solar is the future, but Provo City is making it more expensive for customers whose purpose is to save money.
Travis Ball, the department director of Provo City Power, said several residents have expressed their questions and concerns about paying a fixed cost each month, a primary reason for Provo City Power’s meetings each month.
Ball said residents are concerned the net metering plan would not save them money and the fixed cost would become an additional charge on their grid payments if they were to purchase solar panels.
Ball said some customers think the city should buy power from them since their solar panels add power to the electricity grid. Ball said maintaining the electricity grid has a cost, and the city needs residents to pay for the cost of maintaining it. He said when he explains this to customers they understand the need to pay a fixed monthly cost for their solar panels.
Chris Collard, director of operations for Provo solar company Redstone Solar, said his company hasn’t had a single solar installment in Provo since the city began net metering.
Collard said he admires Provo City Power’s unique net metering plan and its attempts at transparency through monthly meetings, even though his company has had less demand.
Collard said the city’s net metering plan is a “trendsetter.” He said other surrounding cities such as Springville and Lindon have taken note of Provo’s successes and are considering creating their own net metering plans.
“Provo is always looking for new sources of power,” Ball said. “Solar is a resource that has become more affordable in the last few years as the capital cost has dropped.”
Ball said solar power is a “green” resource and eliminates additional fuel costs for the city.
Provo Mayor John Curtis explained net metering and provided an outline of the Provo Power solar panel information meeting on his blog.
Provo Power will host meetings on June 14, July 12 and August 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Provo Power Building (251 W. 800 N.) for those interested in learning more about solar power in Provo.