If utilities own the solar on customers’ roofs, it will increase penetration, save the distribution grid, and set the stage for a new business model. In Idaho, natural gas exploration representative David Hawk said that’s not the utility’s business.
Idaho Power is struggling to do the right thing by its shareholders and its customers. It wants to keep prices as low as possible and to make profits. It still sees those as tied to kWh sales.
Last week Idaho Power’s Integrated Resource Plan Advisory Council met. Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman covered the meeting in some detail. Based on the coverage, it appears that Idaho Power is hampered by a belief that solar prices will not continue to drop and so has not included solar in its integrated plan.
Not surprisingly, many on the Council and in attendance disputed this position. Rocky Barker reports the following exchange:
Idaho had hundreds of people eager to build solar systems as the price of panels dropped – until Idaho Power filed a proposal with state regulators that removed the financial incentives.
“Idaho Power brought a case to kill it,” said Peter Richardson, an energy attorney.
That brought a terse response from David Hawk, who represents natural gas exploration companies.
“I don’t think building solar units on individual houses is the role of a utility,” he said.
Hawk was apparently against allowing third-party financing of solar installations as is done in California, because “electric prices are higher in California than they are in Idaho, making such programs more useful and profitable.”
There should be no doubt that the price of solar will drop precipitously; the Department of Energy is investing millions to ensure it does (DOE Sunshot Initiative). More importantly, a big chunk of the investment targets driving down residential rooftop solar costs. Distribution utility focus on making distributed generation and storage work ensures a future for them, and a big part of that could be owning solar and storage at customers’ sites.
If we do not give utilities a chance to own the solar and storage, we will doom them to eventual bankruptcy. Before that occurs, of course, we will pay too much for a poorly functioning grid because they will not have the funds to invest, which brings hardship on customers as well as investors. Let’s give the utilities a path to save themselves instead.