A low minimum solar bill increases yours, by design

by Steve Hanner

Virtue signaling can be fun. It can also be profitable if you can shift the overall cost to someone else. That’s what’s happening in the battle over a “minimum bill” proposal for Dominion Energy Virginia customers looking to partially escape utility service by committing to a separate shared solar provider.

Anyone who signs up for outdoor service always expects full power on cloudy days, or whenever some other circumstance reduces the output of third-party-owned solar panels. They just don’t want to pay the full freight for this rescue service and instead pass the bill on to you.

The debate erupted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Sunday with a guest column from a paid advocate for a green energy group calling itself the Conservatives for Clean Energy.

“Democrats and Republicans supported the vision of the 2020 Shared Solar Legislation as a program where all Virginians could have access to the opportunity to lower their energy costs. This momentum is something we can all be proud of. But as Newton’s law tells us, momentum can easily be derailed.

Well, you better hope he goes off the rails. What these people know about the physics or accounting of this matter would fit in a thimble. The giveaway is the claim that it would “cut energy costs,” as if one of Newton’s laws states that, in the realm of electricity, a free lunch can be had. Sir Isaac made no such claim.

What’s before the State Corporation Commission involves a fairly small demonstration project, but once the model is established, it’s expected to grow as fast as the solar industry can sell it. At some point, the cost shift will significantly affect regular bills, further incentivizing their product (not an accident.)

With the full cooperation and participation of the General Assembly over several years, aided by several docile governors in a row, Dominion Energy Virginia has become a gigantic, costly behemoth of guaranteed profits and massive oversupply. It is increasingly reliant on intermittent sources with plans in sight to skyrocket consumer costs with an even less reliable generation mix. Low-cost competitors are driven out.

The Virginia Code is peppered with special electrical charges that cannot be circumvented by any customer, special consideration for “environmental justice” or “equity” customers, and costly subsidies for placing power lines. tony suburban neighborhood faucet underground or buy led bulbs for the poor people. It’s a jumble of costs unrelated to juice production underlying the Crown Corporations Commission’s pending proposal for a minimum bill.

As you sow, General Assembly and Gaggle of Governors and worshipers of Sol, so you will reap. You can’t create this expensive mess and then pick winners who can escape the tab payout. If CSC seeks to prevent the transfer of costs to ratepayers who choose not to join a solar cooperative, it is doing the Lord’s work.

Now let’s get to the details and the case, which has been building for nearly two years, beginning shortly after the passage of 2020 legislation authorizing this arrangement. At the center of the debate is a hearing officer’s 65-page report filed Feb. 16, which recommended a minimum bill close to what Dominion wanted but a bit smaller.

It is undisputed that a certain level of minimum monthly billing is required. The description of the 2020 invoice is clear:

Under the program, a subscriber receives a bill credit for the proportional production of a shared solar installation attributable to that subscriber. Subscribers are required to pay a minimum bill, established by the Board, which includes the costs of infrastructure and related services.

But solar industry advocates rallied around a proposal that did not include “costs for infrastructure and related services,” proposing a minimum bill of around $7.50 per month for 1-day usage. 000 kilowatt hours, plus normal usage charges for any electricity purchased. cooperation agreement did not provide.

What is the cost per residential customer to maintain the transmission and distribution lines that make up the grid, the grid that this shared solar customer will continue to connect to and use? About $47 per month for that same 1,000 kWh of electricity. In offering this proposed minimum bill of over $74 for that same 1,000 kWh customer, Dominion has included this along with a complicated formula to pass on some of its generation fleet costs and many overheads.

The SCC staff analysis was in the middle, at about $55 per month, closer to Dominion’s but lower primarily because it assumed lower administrative costs for the utility. The SCC’s hearing reviewer agreed with staff’s suggestion, sparking complaints that the minimum bill was so high it discouraged attendance.

Wait, shouldn’t pricing honestly to recoup true costs be the market signal we want? Apparently not. Subsidizing virtue by charging extra to those who prefer not to go solar is the ticket.

CSC staff also agreed with Dominion that shared solar plan customers could not escape payment for certain non-workaround changes established by the Assembly. An industrial or commercial user with an alternative supplier cannot avoid them, and nothing in the 2020 bill says they could either. Again, if the shared solar people escape, the rest of us must share our share.

So a few extra dollars are added to cover cost recovery for ongoing coal ash disposals, renewable energy portfolio plan and some solar programs, and even monthly charges now on all bills to provide electricity. subsidized electricity to low-income users under the percentage of Income Payment Plan.

The coup de grace: the General Assembly dictated that low-income customers who sign up for this – and to be legal, it must be a substantial percentage – would pay no minimum bill. The consensus is that these costs will be added to the (totally unrelated) fuel charge on everyone’s bill. At the Dominion proposal level, this represents approximately $900 in annual grant and at the CSC level, it is approximately $660.

How many free riders will that make? What is the cost added to the fuel factor pot paid by others? I could not find such a detail. We taxpayers are not supposed to know. Cost shifting will start there.

Abdul J. Gaspar