ST. GEORGE – Homes and businesses that utilize solar power in St. George will soon find a new fee attached to their utility bills following the City Council’s unanimous approval of a new fee policy related to the city’s net metering program.
Converting to solar power has become increasingly popular in recent years as households, businesses and communities look for ways to go green as well as save money on power costs.
Aiding in the drive for solar power is the declining cost of solar panels, which dropped about 19 percent in 2013 and continued dropping in 2014, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. On top of that, rebates are offered at the state and federal levels.
With a bulk of their power coming from solar power, utility customers with solar systems tend to pay much less than average utility users. As the city also buys back excess power generated by solar power users, further offsetting the costs, some city officials have started to wonder if regular customers aren’t, in effect, subsidizing solar users.
“This is associated with our want to treat all of out customers fairly,” René Fleming, the city’s energy resources coordinator, said to the City Council Thursday with regard to the proposed fee system. “If they are generating a fair amount of their energy, that is great. It’s a renewable resource. We feel that’s a good thing.”
Each of the city’s 28,000 utility customers pay a base rate of $15.65. Additional charges are based on meter size and power usage.
Collectively, St. George’s solar power users produce about a megawatt of power and it’s continuing to grow, Fleming said.
Even though solar may act as the primary power source for those who use it, Fleming said, they also remain tied into the city’s utility system and use it as a back up as needed.
“We recognize that they still need full service from the utility (when) solar isn’t generating,” she said. “If it’s night cloudy, whatever, they need full service from the utility and we need to recover that cost of service.”
Under the new fee system, a home with a 1-3-kilowatt meter will be charged $2.25 per month for the power it uses.
Properties with meters of over 3 kilowatts but not more than 4 will be charged $8.61. Larger installations – primarily commercial and industrial ones – with 10 kilowatt meters will be charged up to $29.34 per month.
The city has credited solar power users for the excess power they generate, which is reflected on the following month’s utility bill. If this continues for a consecutive 12 months, the city issued a check for the amount of the kilowatt-hour credits at a rate of 4 cents per kilowatt hour.
As each new solar power installation produced its own rolling 12-month calendar for the customer, Fleming said, the increasing number of installs made it difficult for the city’s energy department to keep track.
“So what we’re proposing is, in December we look at all of our net meter accounts and if there are customers with a kilowatt hour credit in December, we’ll buy it back at the best available wholesale rate,” Fleming said.
After December, all solar accounts will be reset, allowing for a uniform calendar that will be easier for city staff to track and maintain.
“I think it’s a good ordinance, a good policy,” Mayor Jon Pike said before the council adopted the new fee policy.
The city plans to provide educational workshops for residents interested in converting to solar power and the process involved, Fleming said.
The City Council approved issuing bonds when needed to fund up to $9 million towards projects that will then be repaid through RAP tax revenue over time. The city is beginning to receive its $1.2 million portion of the countywide sales tax allocated to recreation, arts and parks projects. Currently, expansion of pickleball courts in the Little Valley area is under construction and nearing completion. Other prospective projects have yet to be decided upon but may include improvements to the Sunbowl, a multi-use field for sports such as soccer, lacrosse and rugby, and a bike skills park, among others.
The purchase of a new SunTran bus was approved for $136,000. The new bus will be replacing one of the current, high-mileage buses while also providing additional accommodation for passengers with disabilities, as it features five spots for wheelchairs.
The council also repealed an ordinance that had made it illegal to ride bicycles on the sidewalk.
Ed. note: Fees on solar power reflect the monthly rate, not per kilowatt hour. The body of the text has been corrected to reflect this.
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