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By Max Erikson

KPUD changes application of net metering rates


Max Erikson

UNPOPULAR RESOLUTION: KPUD commissioners and the audience listen to a speaker at a meeting last week in which a resolution was passed affecting alternative power. Most attendees spoke against the measure.

At a public meeting on March 27, the board of directors for the Klickitat Public Utility District (KPUD) passed resolution 1755, which changes how future net metering rates will be applied to customers who are planning future investments in alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. The resolution was passed despite repeated public testimony against it. KPUD says the purpose of the resolution is to ensure that infrastructure costs are evenly distributed among KPUD customers.

Net metering is a system in which people install solar panels-or other renewable energy generators-on their property, connect them to a public utility power grid, and transfer surplus power from the renewable energy source onto the grid. Customers can then draw back that energy from the utility power grid to offset the costs for energy used.

After an independent analysis of the current net metering rate structure, KPUD determined that there is a cost shift between net metering customers in the program, and non-metering customers who are not in the program. KPUD says that there is a direct cost related to the interconnection and administration of net metering accounts, and that cost is currently passed on to non-metering customers that maintains infrastructure.

KPUD board members Randy Knowles and Douglas Miller both voted yes to pass the resolution while board member Dan Gunkel voted no. Gunkel stated that more time and research was needed to make a more informed decision. Miller says the resolution is a way to keep things fair for everyone.

"For us, we have to keep those power poles in place, and lines in place, in order to send the power we receive in from net-metering customers back out to them," Miller said. "As individuals, you don't have to pay for the poles or the wires, but as a company we do. We're trying to make sure our rate payers not using solar power systems are not carrying the cost burden for those who are."

In July of 2017 the State of Washington passed Senate Bill 5939 that increases incentive amounts potentially available to net metering customers. KPUD staff was concerned that the new incentive programs would increase participation of net metering, which in turn could drive the cost shift to non-metering customers up, that could force KPUD to raise rates.

For customers under a current net-metering agreement with KPUD the new infrastructure cost will not apply. It will only apply to future alternative-energy systems and to new additions to current net-metering systems. For current customers, net metering is rated at a 1 to 1 ratio. Meaning, for every kilowatt of power generated by the alternative energy source, KPUD credits one kilowatt back to the customer at the same cost rate. The new infrastructure fee will reduce the kick-back credit amount to approximately 2.6 to 1, dropping it by close to a third.

While addressing the crowd of concerned net metering customers, Knowles said, "We are not discouraging the use of solar panels, and we actually encourage it. But this resolution is an effort to create a policy that keeps us moving forward to help sustain our current infrastructure."

Eric Strid of White Salmon, who is an advocate for solar energy and net-metering customer, strongly disagrees with the increase in infrastructure rates.

"I look at the big picture of where energy usage and technology is going, and KPUD has no long-term planning whatsoever," Strid says. "Other PUDs across the country are investing in clean energy technologies and KPUD is behind the curve. We need to be more energy efficient, and this resolution is a step in the wrong direction."

Other net metering customers at the meeting shared Strid's sentiment and expressed dissatisfaction with KPUD and what they called its lack of a long-term vision for energy efficiency. Customers shared their concerns that the passing of this resolution will slow down the expansion of solar power and will ultimately make installing new solar panels more expensive and less desirable for potential solar power investments.

In contrast to those concerns, Anita Clever of the Energy Services Department for KPUD, said that many state and federal tax incentives and subsidies are already provided for alternative energy investment that will keep the future of solar viable.

"With so many other subsidies being provided at the state and federal level, we don't think the increase infrastructure fee will hinder the expansion of alternative energy," Clever said. She said she realizes the misunderstanding caused by this infrastructure fee and encourages customers who have questions, or would like to learn more about becoming a net metering customer, to call her office at 773-7622.

According to Clever, there are 119 net-metering customers and about 13,000 non-metering customers in Klickitat County.


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