Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683, firstname.lastname@example.org
BOONE, North Carolina — Appalachian Voices submitted comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission late yesterday as part of its intervention in the commission’s avoided cost proceeding opposing New River Light and Power’s request to add an $8.95 monthly “administrative” fee to the bills of its solar customers.
“New River’s solar policies already make it harder for customers who want to install solar systems to justify the investment, as evidenced by the fact that there are only 15 customer-owned solar systems in Boone,” said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst for Appalachian Voices. “This administrative fee would further disincentivize the adoption of solar and would penalize existing solar customers — actively impeding the ability of the town of Boone, Appalachian State University and North Carolina to meet their respective climate goals and clean energy targets.”
The new fee — amounting to $99 a year — would add insult to injury for New River’s solar customers, who are already forced to sell the electricity they generate on their property to the utility at a low, wholesale rate, and then buy back what they use at the utility’s higher retail rate.
“New River Light and Power has consistently changed the rules to the disadvantage of solar customers, so it’s time for the ‘buy-all, sell-all’ arrangement to change, too,” said Eric Plaag, a Boone resident who put rooftop solar on his home in 2015. “What we need is a rate for solar customers that encourages customer investment in solar.”
In comments to the Utilities Commission, Appalachian Voices noted that New River has submitted no information justifying its current, painfully-low avoided cost rate, or the need for this new administrative fee. For customers who provide solar power to the grid, avoided cost rates reflect, at a minimum, the utility’s savings from not having to produce or purchase that power itself. But such rates typically fail to reflect the additional value that distributed energy sources such as rooftop solar provide to the grid and utility.
Customers have long requested that New River switch from its unfair “buy-all, sell-all” or “forced sale” approach to solar, and instead switch to net-metering, which gives customers full credit for the energy use they offset and reimburses customers for the excess power they supply to the grid at the same rate that customers pay the utility for electricity.
There is a strong demand for solar among Boone residents, stifled by New River’s unjustified policies. A petition to the utility, the university and the Utilities Commission signed by 378 residents of the town and members of the Appalachian State University community asks the utility, which is owned by the university, to withdraw the request for a new administrative fee, replace the utility’s “forced sale” policy for solar customers with one that encourages customer-owned generation, and provide ample public input from the community as New River develops any new plans.
“The university and the town of Boone are really well-positioned to be true leaders on renewable energy,” said Rick Rheingans, a professor in the Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University. “New River’s policies make it hard to do that. The town is trying, but for a utility that is part of a university that claims to be a leader in renewable energy to make it so hard for residents to do their part is just impossible to understand. Why would you make it harder for people to do this?”
Appalachian Voices is represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center in the utilities commission proceeding.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.