Application Fees Reduced for New Solar Customers

At their August 20th regular meeting, the PUD’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation by General Manager Kevin Street to remove a $100 application fee for new solar power and net metering customers.

According to Streett, the application fee was created to cover a cost of service the PUD no longer provides to solar power generating customers.

“In the past, the PUD installed what is called a production meter, which reads the total output of a customer’s solar panels. Our meter readers would read these meters once a year and we would report the total production to the state. The state needed the information to calculate the customer’s incentive payment. But since late 2018, the state program has been full, and new customers can’t get the incentive.”

Streett said he hadn’t been aware of the issue until Operations Assistant Lori Rae brought it to his attention earlier this summer. Rae is in charge of processing net metering applications and coordinating between both solar installers and the PUD staff who put in the net meters. She had heard from installers who disliked the $100 fee and questioned whether it still served a purpose after the incentive program closed.

“To me, it was just straight fairness,” said Streett, about Rae’s suggestion to eliminate the fee. “Why would we charge a fee for an additional meter that customers don’t need to have installed or read anymore?”

The PUD will continue to read existing production meters for previous customers who are still eligible for production incentives from the state, said Streett. And he added that if the state were to open up the incentive program to new customers again in the future, he would consider asking the board to reinstate the $100 fee.

New net metering customers will continue to be charged the same $350 fee that past customers have paid. According to Streett, the $350 fee covers the cost of the net meter, its installation, and any administrative costs incurred by the PUD. There are no additional charges.

What exactly is a net meter? Unlike a regular meter, a net meter measures both power coming into and going out of a customer’s home or business. Rather than the total amount of solar power generated that is measured by a production meter, the net meter measures the difference between the amount of power that a customer takes from the electrical grid and the amount that they send back to the electrical grid.

The “net” is then the amount of power the customer is billed for by the PUD. Some months of the year, customers may achieve what is called “net zero,” when the amount of power they send back to the grid equals the amount they take from the grid. If the customer sells more power back to the PUD than they take from the PUD’s grid during the course of the monthly billing cycle, the customer is then credited the retail value of the excess power on their account. The credits can be applied to future bills when sunshine and power production decreases.

According to PUD Customer Service Manager Jean Hall, the banked credits are only applied to what the PUD calls “consumption rates.” On a customer’s bill the PUD charges both a base rate and a consumption rate. The base rate is currently fixed at $18.50 per month. This charge covers both the cost of the infrastructure to get power to customers, and the cost to maintain that infrastructure. Consumption rates are for power consumed by the customer. For residential customers, the first 600 kWh cost $0.08 per kWh, any additional power consumed beyond 600 kWh is billed at $0.107 per kWh.

“A lot of customers want to know if they’ll still have to pay the PUD if they generate their own power” said Hall. “The answer if yes. No matter how much power they produce, if they are tied into our grid, they will still have to at least pay the base fee each month.”

The PUD currently has 396 net metering customers out of over 19,300, representing about 2% of the total. At times during the last decade, according to the WA State Department of Commerce, Jefferson County has had the highest number of residential solar installations per capita in the state.

Between June 2017 and July 2018 net metering customers generated 1,918,177 kWh of electricity, which amounts to 0.5% of the total amount of power generated in the 2018 calendar year: 376,435,545 kWh.

The PUD is still exploring its own solar power project. Streett said that the PUD has submitted permits to install a ground mounted 100 kW community solar field at the corner of Lawrence and Kearney in Port Townsend, in a vacant lot adjoining a PUD substation. If permits can be obtained, Streett hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2020.

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