PUD waives $100 fee for new solar customers

Posted 9/4/19

The Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) is not only looking to make it more convenient for its customers to connect to solar power, but it also aims to capitalize upon its own solar project as an educational opportunity.

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PUD waives $100 fee for new solar customers

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The Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) is not only looking to make it more convenient for its customers to connect to solar power, but it also aims to capitalize upon its own solar project as an educational opportunity.

On Aug. 19, PUD Communications Manager Will O’Donnell addressed the Port Townsend City Council, informing them that the PUD has submitted permits to install a ground-mounted 100-kilowatt community solar field at the corner of Lawrence and Kearney streets in Port Townsend, in a vacant lot adjoining a PUD substation.

PUD General Manager Kevin Streett has said that, if those permits can be obtained, he hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2020.

O’Donnell elaborated that part of the PUD’s vision for the proposed solar installation in Port Townsend, which would be fenced off, would be to invite school groups for occasional walk-throughs, to learn about how solar power works, including some of the science behind electricity, as well as to demonstrate how the PUD can produce some of its own power in Port Townsend.

“We’re also looking into planting (pollinator attractors) around the panels, which would be mounted on the ground,” O’Donnell said. “We are very excited about the location because of its visibility. It’s on a property we own, and have no plans to sell or develop.”

O’Donnell added that the installation would be part of a dedication to former PUD commissioner Dana Roberts, who helped lead the PUD in acquiring the electrical grid, and whom he credited with being “a big advocate” of solar power in Jefferson County.

And on Aug. 21, the PUD Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Streett’s recommendation to remove a $100 application fee for new solar power and net metering customers.

Streett explained that the application fee was created to cover the cost of a service that the PUD no longer provides to its solar power-generating customers.

“In the past, the PUD installed what’s called a production meter, which reads the total output of a customer’s solar panels,” Streett said. “Our meter readers would read these meters once a year, and we would report the total production to the state.”

The state previously needed that information to calculate the incentive payments for solar power-generating customers, but because the state program has been full since late last year, new customers haven’t qualified for that incentive.

Streett credited Operations Assistant Lori Rae with making him aware of this situation earlier this summer, since Rae is in charge of processing net metering applications, as well as coordinating between both solar installers and the PUD staff who put in the net meters.

“To me, it was just straight fairness,” Streett said about Rae’s suggestion to eliminate the fee. “Why would we charge a fee for an additional meter that customers don’t need to have installed or read anymore?”

Streett assured solar power-generating customers who are still eligible for those state production incentives that the PUD would continue to read their production meters, and if the state were to reopen the incentive program to new customers in the future, he would consider asking the PUD Commissioners to reinstate the $100 fee.

In the meantime, new net metering customers will continue to be charged the same $350 fee that past customers have paid, to cover the costs of the net meter, its installation and any administrative costs incurred by the PUD, with no additional charges.

“What exactly is a net meter?” O’Donnell said. “Unlike a regular meter, a net meter measures the power both coming into and going out of a customer’s home or business. Rather than the total amount of solar power generated, that is measured by a production meter, the net meter measures the difference between the amount of power that a customer takes from the electrical grid, and the amount that they send back to the electrical grid.”

The resulting “net” is the amount of power the customer is billed for by the PUD.

“Some months of the year, customers may achieve what is called ‘net zero,’ when the amount of power they send back to the grid equals the amount they take from the grid,” O’Donnell said. “If the customer sells more power back to the PUD than they take from the PUD’s grid, during the course of the monthly billing cycle, the customer is then credited the retail value of the excess power on their account.”

O’Donnell noted these credits can be applied to future bills, when sunshine and power production decreases.

According to PUD Customer Service Manager Jean Hall, the banked credits are only applied to what the PUD calls “consumption rates.”

Hall pointed out that, on a customer’s bill, the PUD charges both a base rate and a consumption rate, with the base rate currently fixed at $18.50 per month, to cover both the cost of the infrastructure to get power to customers, and the cost to maintain that infrastructure.

By contrast, consumption rates are for power consumed by the customer. For residential customers, what this means is that the first 600 kilowatt-hours cost 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas any additional power consumed beyond 600 kilowatt-hours is billed at 10.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“A lot of customers want to know if they’ll still have to pay the PUD if they generate their own power,” Hall said. “The answer if yes. No matter how much power they produce, if they are tied into our grid, they will still have to at least pay the base fee each month.”

The PUD currently has 396 net meter customers, representing about 2% of their total number of more than 19,300 customers overall.

“At times during the last decade, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce, Jefferson County has had the highest number of residential solar installations per capita in the state,” O’Donnell said.

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