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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah rooftop solar installations dropped about 23 percent in one year thanks, in part, to a change in a system called net metering, industry experts say.
Over 12,400 Utah customers installed rooftop solar from April 2016 to April 2017, while only about 9,600 customers did so from April 2017 to April 2018, according to Rocky Mountain Power’s newest report.
The dip can be attributed to the change in the net metering policy, which occurred in November, Utah Solar Energy Association president Ryan Evans said.
Under the net metering system, utility company Rocky Mountain Power used to pay solar customers the market rate for any excess energy their panels created and sent to the grid. Those customers then would use that money to supplement their bills when they didn’t get enough from the solar panels during other, less sunny parts of the year.
However, Rocky Mountain Power said that net metering was causing extra costs to get pushed onto non-solar customers. After some negotiations with industry leaders, solar customers are transitioning to a different system for the next two years until the industry can figure out the best way to compensate them.
Those in the middle of the transition will be paid less than market rates, but will receive those payments until 2033. Those who installed solar before net metering changed will receive market-rate payments until 2035.
Rocky Mountain Power saw a surge of customers before the change of net metering in November, but only about 212 of the nearly 9,600 yearly customers signed up in the four months after.
“Given the runup in solar installations prior to the end of the net metering program, the latest installation numbers are similar to our expectations,” said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall.
Evans believes the current system is actually pretty beneficial for solar customers — at least for the next two years — then the future of the industry depends on what kind of agreement can be negotiated between Rocky Mountain Power and the solar industry.
While it’s too soon to tell what that agreement will be, one thing that keeps Evans positive is that those with solar panels will not be charged any sort of monthly fee for the energy they generate and use in their homes or businesses — and he doesn’t expect that to change.
“I don’t think we’ve reached the point of saturation (in the solar market), we’ve just reached that point where I think many have gone solar ... and you have to do a little more work to find the customers,” he said. “But every day I talk to people who say, ‘I still consider going solar. I want to go solar, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger yet.’ So there’s definitely a lot of interest still.”