Austin Energy Proposes Value of Solar for Commercial Customers

Publicly owned electric utility Austin Energy presented a commercial Value of Solar proposal at a meeting of the six-member Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee on April 24, the Austin Monitor reported.

Austin Energy currently serves about 448,000 customers in the Lone Star State. Danielle Murray, the Solar Energy Services manager for the utility, testified at the meeting that the proposed plan would benefit both present and future energy customers, the local news outlet said. One of those benefits, she promised, would be compensation for excess generation.

According to Murray, it’s an issue that is “especially relevant for customers, such as schools, that have unusual energy usage patterns.” Indeed, ““Sometimes [schools] push back their solar energy onto the grid in the summer,” Murray said, “and under the current rate structure, they don’t get compensated for that.” This proposal addresses that discrepancy, she said.

The proposal includes three value components for commercial customers: an energy value, a transmission and distribution value, and an environmental compliance value. Under the proposal, customers would be able to reduce their demand charges with solar.

The plan also calls for a Value of Solar rate that would be updated every four to five years by the Oversight Committee, along with Austin Energy’s cost-of-service study – rather than annually, as is required currently under the residential Value of Solar program, the Austin Monitor reported. Doing so, Murray said, would not only provide better stability to customers but make it easier for contractors to communicate when the rate is set for a number of years at a time.

Kaiba White, policy analyst at the Texas office of Public Citizen and president of Solar Austin, told the newspaper that she is excited to see the proposal – describing it as an important development for Austin’s commercial sector. “[The city] has incredible potential for adding (solar) capacity on the commercial side,” White said. “[The proposal is] really important for meeting our goals – our local solar goals, our climate protection goals – and also for creating jobs here in the city.”

According to Murray, commercial customers can currently receive benefits from installing solar in two ways. The first, she said, is through the rate structure. Instead of purchasing energy from Austin Energy, customers are producing a kilowatt-hour of energy under their own roof from solar.“[Customers] are reducing what they buy from us,” explained Murray. “Therefore, whatever charges they have on their bill based per kilowatt-hour are reduced.”

Customers also can currently benefit from Austin Energy’s incentive programs, such as the performance-based incentive program. Through the program, Murray said customers receive an incentive for every kilowatt-hour they produce from the system for the first ten years.

The proposal also includes a Value of Solar tariff for commercial customers, which would require customers to have solar panels on their roofs, a solar meter; and a revenue meter as well.“Under a Value of Solar tariff, (customers) would get a Value of Solar credit for every kilowatt-hour that solar system produces as measured on the solar meter,” she told the committee. She said customers also would be charged the regular rate structure for everything else they used.

Murray said this proposal is on track with the city’s efforts to meet 70 MW of customer-sited solar by 2020. According to the numbers, the goal will be met by 2019.

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