The Utah Supreme Court largely dismissed a case from Vote Solar and Utah Clean Energy against the Public Service Commission
SALT LAKE CITY – Yesterday, after two years of debate, the Utah Supreme Court largely declined to address important questions about the value of clean energy in the case Vote Solar v. Public Service Commission of Utah. Vote Solar, with support from Utah Clean Energy, brought this case to the Supreme Court in early 2021 to make the case that it is incumbent upon the Utah Public Service Commission to consider the benefits and value rooftop solar brings to the health and well-being of Utah, as well as the costs incurred by climate impacts. In today’s ruling, the Supreme Court largely declined to address the merits of these critical questions.
The Court also declined to reconsider the evidence showing that annual updates to the price utilities pay solar customers for the excess solar energy exported to the grid, and the practice of allowing credits to expire at the end of the year, are unfair. The Court deferred to the Commission’s original finding, which leaves these policies in place. These decisions expose solar customers to significant price volatility and an inability to plan for their energy costs accurately. This puts homes and businesses that want to generate their own energy at a disadvantage compared to utilities and large power producers, who are guaranteed a long-term fixed revenue stream when they generate energy.
“We are incredibly disappointed about the court’s decision not to address important issues in this case. Families and businesses in Utah are eager to use distributed solar to improve their energy independence and be a part of the clean energy economy, but this decision perpetuates a status quo where utilities have outsized influence to limit their customer’s electricity choices,” said Kate Bowman, Interior West Regulatory Director for Vote Solar. “Instead of being encouraged to choose innovative clean energy technologies like solar to power their homes and businesses, Utah energy customers are held captive by restrictive policies.”
Vote Solar brought this matter before the Court in response to a 2020 Public Service Commission ruling that reduced the value of exported solar energy from 9.2 c/kilowatt-hour to 5 c/kilowatt-hour – less than half the retail rate. In their 2020 ruling on Rocky Mountain Power’s solar export credit rate, the Commission chose to consider a limited set of the costs associated with providing electricity service to customers, which includes things like fuel purchases or maintaining transmission lines to ensure reliable service, among other things. In this case, Vote Solar demonstrated that Utah law explicitly authorizes and encourages the Commission to consider several additional factors when valuing energy resources, including the health and environmental costs from the burning of fossil fuels. These are measurable costs that are ultimately experienced by all Utahns, but they are not considered in decisions about where our energy comes from. Vote Solar v the Public Service Commission of Utah made the case that electricity from rooftop solar helps to mitigate these costs, bringing measurable benefits to all Utahns. Utah Clean Energy affirmed this argument through an amicus curiae brief.
“Rooftop solar is a tool that our utilities and policymakers should leverage to improve the diversity, flexibility, and resiliency of the electric grid, especially in the face of more extreme weather,” states Utah Clean Energy’s Climate Scientist, Logan Mitchell. “While many Utahns continue to go solar and increase their energy independence, the fact remains that we are not utilizing the full potential of locally sourced solar power.”
Vote Solar and Utah Clean Energy submitted substantial evidence to the Commission reflecting climate costs and the many health, social, economic, and environmental benefits from distributed solar; however, the Commission disregarded this evidence, stating that they lacked the authority to consider anything beyond the utility’s cost of service. The court chose to defer judgment on this important question based on a legal technicality.
As a result of this decision, the export credit for net metering will remain at 5 c/kilowatt-hour and continue to be updated every year. This discourages Utahns from installing rooftop solar or adopting other innovative technologies, like battery storage, that contributes to a cleaner and more resilient energy grid. Further, this decision leaves Utah without clear guidance about how the Commission should consider important environmental and social questions in their rate-making process.
Brandy Smith | Communications Director, Utah Clean Energy | firstname.lastname@example.org