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Monday, June 24, 2024

GRU Authority Board adopts changes to billing for solar-owning customers

The meeting was its last before the resignations of all four board members, effective in May

In its final meeting Wednesday, the GRU Authority Board passed a resolution authorizing changes to its customer-owned renewable generation policy, adopting a new structure for billing its solar-owning customers.

Jamie Verschage, the GRU interim planning director, presented the resolution at the meeting Wednesday, informing board members and GRU customers about its policies regarding solar photovoltaic systems.

While GRU does not sell or install solar systems, it has historically incentivized its customers to opt for them. In 2002, GRU began offering partial refunds to encourage installations. The Solar Feed-in-tariff program was introduced in 2009, in which selected customers owning solar photovoltaic systems could use them to generate energy to sell directly to GRU through a 20-year contract.

In 2014, GRU ended its previous incentivization programs, replacing them with a net metering process. Through GRU’s full retail net metering, customers are billed on the “net” of how much energy is provided from GRU’s grid and how much excess solar energy is pushed to it. If there is more excess solar energy than grid-supplied energy each month, the energy credit rolls forward to offset energy for the following month.

As the solar market has changed, the existing net metering structure has become outdated, Verschage said. Solar prices have significantly decreased, leading participation to increase. This has disrupted rate equity between solar-owning customers and non-solar-owning customers, he said.

The proposed alternative would have all grid-provided energy billed at retail rates and all excess solar energy credited at a given rate to compensate, such as the fuel adjustment rate, which is currently $0.035 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The new structure aligns with the way the utility industry is moving and is a “relatively straightforward change,” Verschage said.

The billing would only apply to future customers wishing to install solar photovoltaic systems, but would not affect customers who already own them, he said.

During public comment on the topic, nearly 30 GRU customers and solar company employees  spoke against the proposed resolution. Due to the vast number of commenters at the meeting, they were only given a minute each to speak on the topic.

While the changes may save GRU money, commenters argued they would be inappropriately charged and future residents would be disincentivized to install solar in their homes. Many commenters urged the board to defer the decision to a future meeting, especially considering the board members’ resignations.

GRU Authority Board Chair Craig Carter recognized the topic was a “no-win situation.” Whether the board voted to adopt the changes or maintain the current system, either GRU or its customers would lose money, he said. Still, he does not believe the existing structure is feasible for the utility company.

“We can’t keep being a battery,” Carter said. “What if we have 30 megawatts, 100 megawatts, 200? When do we stop? If it’s not today, when do we stop doing this?”

Through jeering and laughter from audience members, Carter assured residents of his support for solar energy.

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“I am all for solar,” he said. “I’m just not for the way we’re paying it.”

It’s important solar energy remains a good investment for GRU customers while still allowing the company to make money, Carter said.

“We’re changing the format to pay to make it more dealable with the utility,” Carter said. 

The resolution was passed unanimously, with board member James Coats IV absent. Beginning April 18, customers who submit a letter of intent to GRU to construct a photovoltaic solar system will receive GRU’s then-current fuel adjustment rate for each kilowatt-hour provided to GRU’s distribution system during each billing period.

Wednesday’s meeting was the board’s final meeting before its resignations take effect in May.

As the meeting neared its end, board members reflected on their time in the position during the member comment section.

“It’s been an absolute honor to serve on this board,” Eric Lawson, one member of the GRU Authority, said. 

Robert Karow, another board member, echoed Lawson’s sentiment.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” he said. “It’s been a rewarding experience and certainly a learning experience, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it.”

Contact Bailey Diem at bdiem@alligator.org. Follow her on X @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.


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