Solar proponents concerned about rate proposals

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — The proposed rate structures for the Farmington Electric Utility System have solar proponents concerned.

Farmington resident and solar user Paul Pavlik talks Wednesday about the proposed rate changes for the Farmington Electric Utility System during a public meeting at the Farmington Civic Center.

More than a dozen solar proponents attended a meeting today at the Farmington Civic Center to offer comments about the proposed rates.

Among these proponents were Paul Pavlik and Mary Ann Briody who were the first solar customers connected to Farmington's grid. When they installed solar panels in 2006, they went to the City Council and presented a plan for net metering — the term for when the utility gives customers a credit for any excess power their system produces.

Now the utility may add in a standby service rider, which means customers will pay a little more than $7 for each kilowatt of power their array is meant to generate. If customers produce more power than they use, the city will pay them avoided costs — the cost the city would pay to buy that power on the market. That is less than what the solar customers with net metering are paid.

When the proposal was presented to the City Council during a work session Tuesday, Mayor Tommy Roberts said the solar users will still pay less than a customer who does not generate any power. But new solar customers will not see as much savings as customers who are already producing solar power.

Solar proponents say that will discourage people, especially customers who do not use a lot of energy, from investing in solar arrays.

According to NewGen Strategies and Solutions LLC — the consulting firm that did a cost-of-service and rate study for the city of Farmington — it costs the city about $40 per residence to provide residential electricity. Residents who do not use much electricity or who produce some of their own electricity do not pay enough to cover those costs.

Farmington Electric Utility System Deputy Director Rodney Romero, left; Farmington Electric Utility System Director Hank Adair; Joe Macinelli, the general manager and president of NewGen Strategies & Solutions; and Jill Sangster, a senior consultant for NewGen, listen to a resident speaking Wednesday about the proposed rate changes for Farmington Electric Utility System during a public meeting at the Farmington Civic Center.

Joe Mancinelli, general management and president of NewGen Strategies and Solutions, said the difference between the amount residents pay and the cost to serve the customers is a subsidy that has to be picked up by other customers, such as businesses or residential customers who use more power.

The rate study showed two classes of customers were receiving subsidies — residential customers and wholesale transmission customers, like the city of Aztec. If the rate structures are approved by the City Council, wholesale transmission customers will see a 16 percent increase in the rate they pay to have electricity transmitted. While acknowledging that is a significant increase, Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes said it is still less than what other nearby utilities would charge for wholesale transmission. Residential customers who do not use a lot of energy will also see their bills increase because the proposal calls for a $10 minimum bill.

Briody objected to the term subsidy being used to describe solar users.

She said there is a vibrant community of solar users in Farmington and that the people who have solar arrays care about the community.

"We're not people who are here because we're looking for rate subsidies," she said.

The City Council will vote on the proposed rates during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Farmington City Hall, 800 N. Municipal Drive.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.