Utility Fee Proposals Could Hurt Self-Storage Rooftop Solar Investments

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Self-storage operators who have invested in solar power at their facilities to reduce their carbon footprint and lower utility costs may be in for a fight as power companies in several states rethink solar-energy rate structures originally designed to promote alternative-energy use. Utility companies in Arizona, California, Georgia and Idaho are among those that have proposed charging special fees to solar-power users or rolling back or blocking power-swap rate plans, according to a report by the Associated Press.

A power-swapping plan typically enables solar customers to trade excess solar power generated during the day for power from the utility’s grid when necessary. The move by utility companies coincides with an increase in solar’s popularity, as systems have become more affordable. As rooftop solar systems become more mainstream, they threaten utilities’ ability to retain customers and generate revenue, according to the source.

If new fees or rate structures are adopted, many solar installers believe rooftop solar systems would no longer be an economical option for customers. "They are trying to punish people for buying less electricity," said Bryan Miller, vice president for public policy at SunRun Inc., a solar installation and financing company. "They are trying to kill solar."

In Georgia’s case, the power company wants to add a new fee for solar customers who install new systems beginning next year. As a result, those same Georgia Power Co. customers could buy electricity at prices the utility says would enable it to better recoup its costs.

Mike Easterwood, owner of Decatur Self Storage in Decatur, Ga., believes the proposed charges will discourage residents and businesses from pursuing solar installations and protect the profits of the utility. "I think [solar power] scares the heck out of [utilities], quite frankly," he said. "They are a monopoly, and so they operate in monopolistic fashion."

Easterwood invested $320,000 to install nearly 400 rooftop solar panels at Decatur Self Storage. The facility currently returns excess electricity to the Georgia Power grid in exchange for a reduced monthly power rate.

This type of program is common across the nation with 43 states adopting some sort of power-swapping plan. Many of those cap how large they can grow, according to the source. As of July, 283,000 customers were participating in a power-swapping program, according to the Energy Department.

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