Farmington City Council approves solar rate

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The City Council approved a revision to Farmington Electric Utility System rates Tuesday evening that affects customers who use large-scale solar panels.

On the agenda was rate No. 23, but councilors denied it and instead unanimously approved rate No. 24, which wasn't on the agenda. San Juan Regional Medical Center officials had asked the city to create rate 23 to accommodate solar users who generate more electricity than a common residential user, but none of the hospital's representatives attended the meeting.

"Their cavalier attitude speaks volumes," Councilor Mary Fischer said.

Hospital officials were not immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

Many other councilors agreed with Fischer. Councilor Nate Duckett said he was discouraged, and Councilor Gayla McCulloch said she thought the hospital's representative who attended the Public Utility Commission's meetings to discuss the rate was a bully and "sales person." The PUC, after meeting twice with the hospital's representative, recommended the council approve rate 23.

Revisions to rate No. 23 would have charged customers who use solar panels larger than 10 kilowatts $11.97 per kilowatt. That is lower than rate 24's $15.10 per kilowatt fee, and councilors also objected to that.

Unlike rate agreements for customers with smaller solar panels, under both rate 23 and 24, the utility will not buy customers' extra electricity that may be generated and sent into the grid. But the city buys back power from smaller solar customers.

Earlier in the meeting, Farmington resident David Fosdeck said the electricity buy-back for smaller solar-panel users is encouraging, but he was discouraged that the utility won't buy back power from large-scale users. Before he moved to Farmington, Fosdeck said he worked for a Colorado solar company. He said the firm employed up to 40 people and always bought supplies locally.

"I don't think the citizens, the energy users of Farmington, should be penalized" because the city won't buy back power from larger solar users, he said.

But the utility's business operations manager, Sue Nipper, said the city doesn't have many large-scale solar users. And in 2016, the utility is performing a cost-of-service study that could prompt changing all rates once it's complete, she said. The City Council could also consider allowing larger solar users like the hospital to sell back power to the city, she said.

The utility, she said, will look at all options.

"I think that's probably what we wanted to hear," Mayor Tommy Roberts said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.