BOISE-Customers of Idaho Power Company who generate their own electricity fear they are being unfairly targeted as the utility reorganizes its rate structure. Critics say that move may be big trouble for Idaho’s budding solar industry.

The Idaho Conservation League says unfair rates could punish Idaho’s ingenuity, damage an emerging economic force and lead to more pollution in our air and water.

Idaho Power provides the electric grid that distributes power for about 500,000 people in Boise and southern Idaho. Meanwhile, about 1,500 Idaho Power customers participate in the net metering program and  generate their own power for farms, homes and businesses with solar panels, windmills and other sources. Sometimes, those small producers generate enough energy to put surplus electricity back on the grid.

Idaho Power is asking the Idaho Public Utilities Commission for permission to bill these customers at a different rate than customers who don’t generate their own electricity. According to Idaho Power’s proposal, the company blames residential customers with solar panels for causing shortfalls in infrastructure revenue.

Matt Nykiel, conservation associate at the Idaho Conservation League, says it’s unfair to blame those shortfalls on the tiny slice of Idaho Power customers who generate surplus electricity.

"Everyone who uses Idaho’s electric grid should pay a fair share," Nykiel said. "The trouble is, the Idaho Power proposal could put an unfair burden on families and individuals who generate electricity through solar and wind. Idaho Power needs to look at the big picture here and consider all the costs and benefits." He added, "The Idaho Public Utilities Commission needs to do its job by ensuring that all Idaho Power customers pay just and reasonable electric rates and are not unfairly discriminated against."

Idaho Power’s proposal comes at a time when the solar industry is beginning to provide a significant source of new, well-paying jobs statewide.

Idaho Power customers like Winston and Kristen Cheyney of Boise are concerned because the proposal glosses over the high price its customers pay to install and maintain their own solar panels and the benefits they pass along to other customers. The Cheyneys are installing solar panels on their home.

"Idaho Power should embrace the future and innovation instead of being afraid of it," said Winston Cheyney. "Idaho Power doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that we’re paying $12,000 (before tax credits) just to install our solar panels, nor does Idaho Power appreciate that we will ultimately help stabilize the electric grid by providing power when demand for energy is highest."

David Dudley and his wife, Mary, power their Ola home with solar and they have watched as more and more of their neighbors and community install their own solar systems. "If you’re part of the grid, generating power from solar panels not only provides grid security and reduces air pollution, solar panels are reliable, quiet, and unobtrusive compared to the large and costly facilities Idaho Power operates. It would be a shame to see the adoption of solar in our community drop because Idaho Power is unwilling to recognize the benefits solar provides the grid system."

Boise resident John Treinen installed solar panels on his home several years ago and participates in the net metering program with Idaho Power. "I understand Idaho Power’s concerns, but I think there are better ways they could maintain grid infrastructure without deterring the development of the clean energy economy of the future. I’m concerned that Idaho Power’s current proposal will keep Idaho’s energy system stuck in the past."

Idaho Power requested that the PUC issue a decision on this matter by the end of 2017. The PUC is accepting public comments and will hold a judicial style proceeding on the proposal. The Idaho Conservation League will advocate for affordable renewable energy that creates job while limiting pollution.

"We need to pursue market and regulatory solutions that both cover the costs of Idaho Power’s infrastructure while encouraging local, sustainable energy," Nykiel said. "Idaho Power should stop nickel-and-diming its customers and take a broader look at all the factors that influence their revenue for infrastructure."