New Case Before Utah’s Supreme Court Considers the Cost of Climate

Vote Solar and Utah Clean Energy break new legal ground to enhance Utah’s ability to respond to climate change

SALT LAKE CITY – Vote Solar, with support from Utah Clean Energy, has brought the value of rooftop solar and the costs of climate change to Utah’s Supreme Court in Vote Solar v the Public Service Commission of Utah. Through the case, Vote Solar aims to demonstrate that considering climate costs and solar benefits when evaluating and comparing different energy resources is the only way to ensure both the utility’s and customers’ interests are fairly reflected in rates.

“The US spent $145 billion dollars in 2021 dealing with climate disasters.  These are costs borne by all Americans, including Utahns. When we ignore the costs of climate change, Utahns get stuck with the bill. Our utilities must have clear directives to invest in climate mitigating energy choices,” states Hunter Holman, Utah Clean Energy’s staff attorney.

Vote Solar v the Public Service Commission of Utah was filed in response to a series of Public Service Commission (Commission) rulings from October 2020 through August 2021 that reduced the value of exported solar energy from 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (c/kwh) to 5 c/kwh. The supreme court case questions which factors the Commission has the authority to consider when setting utility rates. In their ruling on Rocky Mountain Power’s solar export credit rate, the Commission chose to consider only the direct costs Rocky Mountain Power incurs when providing electricity service to customers. Vote Solar and Utah Clean Energy argue that Utah law explicitly authorizes and encourages the Commission to consider several additional factors when valuing energy resources, including the measurable health and environmental costs from the burning of fossil fuels. These are costs that are ultimately imposed on all Utahns. Vote Solar v the Public Service Commission of Utah makes the case that electricity from rooftop solar helps to mitigate these costs, bringing measurable benefits to all Utahns. 

“The Public Service Commission of Utah is responsible for ensuring the utility doesn’t impose unfair costs on its customers. If they refuse to consider the costs of climate during the important process of setting energy rates, then who can?” states Kate Bowman, Interior West Regulatory Director. “The current solar export rate ignores customers’ interest in mitigating long-term climate impacts in favor of the utility’s interest in maximizing revenue from solar customers. In the long-term, it will leave all Utahns stuck with a larger bill for climate impacts,” states Bowman.

Vote Solar and Utah Clean Energy submitted substantial evidence to the Commission reflecting climate costs and solar benefits. However, the Commission disregarded this evidence, arguing that they are not well suited to consider anything beyond the utility’s “cost of service”.

“When setting Utah’s solar export credit rate, the Public Service Commission of Utah failed to consider climate-related costs or clean energy benefits, despite their legal authority to do so,” states Holman.

Vote Solar appealed the Commission’s rooftop solar decision to the Utah Supreme Court in early 2021, and Utah Clean Energy submitted an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) brief in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association in support of Vote Solar’s appeal.  

“Vote Solar’s case highlights that the Commission disregarded Utah law when it chose to ignore all evidence that doesn’t pertain to the utility’s cost of service. In doing so, it failed to balance customer interests against the utility’s to the detriment of utility customers and the state,” states Bowman.

Utah Clean Energy’s Amicus Curiae brief demonstrates to the Supreme Court that Utah law clearly grants the Commission the authority to consider climate costs when setting rooftop solar energy rates, and future energy rates in general.  

“It is critical to consider the costs and risks of climate change today in order to make decisions that minimize those costs. Ignoring the costs now does not protect customers, it just ensures that utilities’ investment decisions will ultimately leave customers stuck paying even more in their future electricity rates,” states Holman.

“Energy resources are a critical key to mitigating climate impacts: electricity generation is responsible for 40% of Utah’s greenhouse gas pollution. Our energy investment choices must reflect this reality, and account for the value of energy resources like solar that help Utah transition to cleaner energy,” says Kate Bowman. 

A win at the Supreme Court could transform Utah’s energy future by affirming the importance of considering climate change in future rate making proceedings and enhancing Utah’s ability to leverage its plentiful solar energy resources. The case is expected to run through 2022.

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