PUD seeks to ease solar cost burden on non-solar customers
January 4, 2024
The potential impact of solar panels on utility customers and a couple financial windfalls were the subject of conversation at Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday.
General Manager Dan Kay said that he and Commissioner Dennis Reid would attend a Washington PUD Association meeting next week to hear about Washington State legislative priorities, and about a recent net energy metering study.
According to Kay, the study looked at three things: the benefit-cost ratio to people who have a photo voltaic system, or solar panels; the benefit-cost ratio to people who don’t have and likely can’t afford a PV system; and a societal perspective.
Following six diverse utilities across the state of Washington, the study concluded that the costs exceeded the benefits, Kay said.
They found that the systems are saving money for the people who can afford them while the people who can’t afford them may be making up the difference each month when it comes to covering the costs to run a utility.
“So essentially, all of our rate payers are subsidizing the owners of these PV systems to an extent, we just don’t know how much,” Commissioner Bob Jungers clarified.
“Yes,” Kay said.
According to Kay, unlike other utilities around the state, Wahkiakum County rate payers are not greatly impacted by the matter at this time. The PUD is only required to accept four percent of solar panel users in their customer base, and currently, only a quarter of that number are taking advantage of the program.
Once the cap has been hit, the utility can say yes or no to future systems, Kay said.
According to Kay, a person that adds a PV system is saving money on the energy component of the bill, but still has to pay the base charge.
The matter may have the utility considering the base fee in the future. While it is paid by PV users and non users alike, the PUD needs to be certain that is enough to cover the costs of running the utility, Auditor Erin Wilson said.
“If our monthly charge doesn’t cover operations, it should,” Commissioner Gene Healy said.
“There needs to be some way to lessen the impact on the customer who doesn’t have solar. To me, subsidizing the owner of the solar is just not proper.”
Wilson shared that some money was coming into the utility coffers thanks to the sale of allowances issued by the Department of Ecology to offset carbon emissions, and secondly due to a good year at Bonneville Power Administration.
Wahkiakum PUD was issued 1,708 allowances in 2023 by the Department of Ecology as part of the Climate Commitment Act. These allowances are equal to the amount of carbon that a company is determined to have a right to emit and can be sold at auctions held four times a year. The PUD recently took advantage, and received $51.89 for each allowance, raising $88,628.
The PUD has already been issued another 1,679 allowances for 2024 by the Department of Ecology and is debating when to sell them at auction.
They are hoping to earmark the funds for 2030, when the Clean Energy Transformation Act will require utilities to make programs and funding available to assist to low-income households.
“Our recommendation is to just hold on to the funds, and not take action like some of our fellow utilities who have added a buck a month, four dollars a month [to rates] for that future expense in 2030,” Kay said.
The other good news for the utility was a $151,979 credit from Bonneville, to be used over the next 10 months as part of what is called a reserve distribution clause.
Bonneville is not for profit, and in the years when they make money selling energy to other markets, that money comes back to their customers. Wahkiakum PUD received $312,000 last year.
“Enjoy it when we get it, because it’s not going to be every year,” Reid said.
In other PUD news, decent weather made it possible for the electric crew to complete two more pole replacement projects in the last two weeks, and the water crew continues to work on maintenance and repairs around the facilities, Kay said.
The commissioners recognized the utility’s employees and all their years of service and they approved a cost of living increase for the PUD manager, bringing Kay’s salary to $15,756 a month.