The Solar Days of August | Urban Living

The Solar Days of August

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I just sold a small commercial property in Millcreek that had a net-zero solar system that produced more electricity than the two buildings used each month. The solar panels were only noticeable from the sky or workers/residents of buildings more than three stories high in the near vicinity. To me, this is a far cry from the huge and bulky panels on homes and buildings I've sold in the past that had remnants of the original systems that came out in the '80s. Those reminded me of the Volkswagen-Beetle-sized satellite dishes that people used to have in their backyards—which have since shrunk to roughly the size of large serving plates.

Many folks want solar panels these days to generate electricity and avoid depending on local companies like Rocky Mountain Power—not to mention a desire to help save our planet. Luckily, the installation prices have come way down. I worked on a new townhome development two years ago that had solar upgrades for $15,000 per unit, which this year have come down to $12,000. The installation cost is almost equal to the cost of the panels themselves. Competition has also grown tremendously, which helps bring prices down.

You might have read in your local news feed about the kerfuffle between our power giant and local solar users and advocates. Basically, Rocky Mountain Power is recommending a three-part rate for residential net-metered customers, a method similar to the one used now by commercial customers with self-generation. Tacked onto a $15 fixed charge would be $9.02 per kilowatt for peak-period demand and 3.81 cents per kilowatt-hour for the amount of energy used.

The power company conducted a study in 2016 that found a typical rooftop solar customer "underpays their actual cost of service by about $400 per year," which they forecast will cost the company $78 million annually in lost revenue. Their website states there were 1,548 private solar customers here in 2012, and 17,230 in 2016.

If you're producing your own power, why do you care about the big corporation losing money? Because you do want to sell the excess power back to them, and RMP says on their website, "Net metered customers still rely on the grid 23.99 hours of each day." State regulators will be holding hearings throughout the week to help work out a plan between public and private producers.

I'm not lucky enough to live in a progressive building that wants to buy solar panels, but my company does purchase service from Rocky Mountain Power that is purchased from solar producers. Let's work this out, people. We need solar energy to sustain our planet.

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