For farmers with irrigation pumps, power is one of the most expensive costs of producing agricultural crops. To control costs and be more self-reliant, farmers across Idaho are choosing to install solar panels through a partnership with Idaho Power known as “net metering.” Now, Idaho Power is trying to end the current net metering program before creating a replacement.
If you have solar today, now is the time to speak up to protect your investment.
If you are thinking about solar in the future, now is the time to speak up for a fair and workable solar program.
Going Solar is part of best farming practices
Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) are practical and cost-effective solutions available for farmers who want to conserve their resources. Especially on crop farms with irrigation systems, these BMPs often focus on minimizing water and fertilizer runoff while also maximizing the efficient use of water for on-farm production.
The solar-powered irrigation pump is a technology that is quickly growing in popularity. In this irrigation system, solar panels generate the necessary power for pumping surface water or groundwater to crops.
These solar pumps can provide additional benefits that conform with agricultural BMPs. When the sun is shining most strongly on a farmer’s crops, the sun’s energy can provide power via solar panels to pump much needed water through the irrigation system. This allows farmers to water their crops, at low cost, during the day when they need it the most.
In addition, solar panels can power other technologies like soil moisture meters which allow farmers to remotely manage where and how much water to apply to their crops.. These types of technologies allow for more efficient use of water, reducing consumption and aiding conservation. Also, remote monitoring reduces the amount of time a farmer needs to manually check soil moisture freeing them up for other activities.
Solar pumps also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of climate change. With quickly dropping upfront capital costs, solar pumps are becoming more popular with their low maintenance requirements and near-zero marginal costs to operate.
Net metering changes raise many questions
But the cost and resource efficiencies that arise from customer-owned solar irrigation systems are threatened by Idaho Power’s latest proposal. Right now, these customers connect with the utility through a program commonly known as “net metering.” This program allows solar customers to receive a credit on their bill for the excess electricity they send back to the grid. Today, that credit is the same as the rate all customers pay Idaho Power for electricity. For residential customers, Idaho Power uses a single meter to measure what they consume from Idaho Power and any extra solar energy you send back to the grid. But for farmers and businesses, Idaho Power requires your system to have two meters; one to measure the solar output and one to measure your consumption. This two meter requirement increases the cost of solar irrigation installation.
Nevertheless, customer-owned solar is growing in popularity. Instead of harnessing this growth, Idaho Power seeks to change this successful net metering program by developing a replacement for it. Idaho Power proposes to remove this dual-meter requirement for new systems starting December 1, which will help lower solar installation costs, but their proposal also opens the door to change the net metering credit rate, which would have a big impact on the investments of current and future solar owners. This raises a few questions:
Why is Idaho Power proposing this change?
Idaho Power claims solar is growing too fast, but the numbers tell a different story. Idaho Power asserts that irrigators will add about 16 megawatts of solar systems, but the overall system can serve much more than that at 3,600+ megawatts. This means that Idaho Power can handle more farmers with irrigation systems switching to solar while having no meaningful impact on Idaho Power’s total system. Nevertheless, Idaho Power claims that the impact of solar irrigation means the net metering program must be changed. Net metering is for individuals who want to invest their own money in their own farm. Speak up to protect a farmer’s right to control their own power bills with home-grown energy.
Is this the right time to establish this change?
Idaho Power is proposing a cutoff date of December 1, 2020 for the current net metering program, after which the rates could change. Solar is a long-term investment. By creating uncertainty in the marketplace, Idaho Power will make it nearly impossible for any farmer to make the financial decision to invest in solar, driving good solar jobs and businesses out of the state, like we’ve already seen with the residential program. Speak up to require Idaho Power to establish new and fair export rates before ending the current program.
This proposed change and the public comment period are also happening during fall harvest. Speak up to ask for an extended public comment period beyond the fall harvest season, when farmers can more meaningfully engage in the process.
What other changes could follow from this?
While Idaho Power does not propose to change what they pay for customers’ excess solar energy now, they are laying a foundation to try and slash that rate in the future, as we saw with their residential program. This local power is extra valuable because it supports your neighbors and community instead of relying on long-distance power lines and far-flung power plants. Speak up to ensure Idaho Power maintains fair export credit rates and accurately values the extra power customer-solar provides.
What other changes would support farmer-owned solar?
Currently, farms and businesses can only install up to 100 kilowatts of solar per meter. Many business and irrigation pumps require much more power than that. This arbitrary 100 kilowatt cap means a business or farmer cannot offset all of their own needs and must then buy from Idaho Power. Speak up to give farmers the freedom to invest in a solar system that’s large enough to meet their energy needs.
How does this change impact farmers who already have solar?
Idaho Power proposes to move existing systems under the current net metering program into a legacy treatment for only 10 years. But the Idaho Public Utilities Commission just told Idaho Power to use legacy treatment for residential net-metering for 25 years, which is a much more reasonable timeline given that solar is a 25+ year investment. Speak up for fair rules that treat farmers the same as everyone else and value their hard-earned investments.
How you can speak up
You cannot select your utility company; Idaho Power is your only option. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regulates this monopoly utility company. Under PUC rules you have the power to speak up for your right to invest your own money in your own system under fair rules. There are two opportunities to raise your voice.
Public Hearing: Tuesday, October 13th, 6:00 pm
Speak directly to the three Commissioners about your concerns and why fair solar rules are important for Idaho farmers. The Commission’s role is to grant, deny, or modify Idaho Power’s proposal. Your comments will be part of the formal record upon which the Commission will base its decision.
This hearing is by telephone only:
Dial 1-800-920-7487 and enter the passcode 6674832# when prompted. Those planning on testifying are encouraged to start calling into the hearing at 5:30 p.m. (MDT).
Written Comments: due by October 27th
You can write a comment to the Public Utilities Commission anytime to share your story. Be sure to reference the case number: IPC-E-20-26.
Submit a written comment through the PUC online form here: https://puc.idaho.gov/Form/CaseComment
Or you can email your comment to the Commission Secretary at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The PUC wants to hear from you. You don’t have to be technical or detailed – speak to your values and that you expect fair treatment. Just a two minute story about how a solar system can help your farm helps bring a human side to this story. You can also share your story more broadly. Write a letter to your local paper; share your story on social media.