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Power The Almighty Buck

Electric Company Wants Monthly Fee For Solar Users 367

Posted by Soulskill
from the also-working-on-a-candle-penalty dept.
7-Vodka writes "Xcel Energy customers who have their own solar panels are worried about a new fee being proposed by the company. A monthly fee to pay for transmission and distribution of energy would be charged to customers who have solar panels, irrespective of their energy use for the month. An Xcel Energy spokesman said the fee is to ensure that regular customers don't subsidize the 'connectivity fees' for the solar panel customers who don't pay when they generate as much as they use. When pressed, the spokesman admitted that nobody actually pays a 'connectivity fee,' yet they wanted to prevent the mooching from occurring in the future (presumably when they hit everyone with such a fee). He also called the absence of a connectivity fee for solar customers a 'double subsidy' because many solar customers receive rebates to install the panels."
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Electric Company Wants Monthly Fee For Solar Users

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  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:25AM (#28908537)

    Because I'm not really getting what the hell they mean about how solar panel users are mooching by NOT using the grid's energy. Maybe there's something electrical and complicated going on that I, as a mere mortal, don't understand that some kind EE can explain to me.

    Right now all I'm hearing is "Damn them, how dare those freeloaders not buy things from us!"

  • by Pretzalzz (577309) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:33AM (#28908583)
    In essence the solar users give power to the grid during the day and then take different power back at night for a net usage of zero or minus. If the grid didn't exist they wouldn't have power at night since they aren't designed to store significant amounts of power. If a transformer blows the power company still has to fix it even though there isn't really a 'paying' customer. Of course night time power is cheaper than day time power but the solar user probably isn't being fully compensated so even without the fee the electric company is still coming out ahead, but are just being greedy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:34AM (#28908593)

    Solar power users use the grid as an energy storage device. Sunny day ? push power in the grid. Cloudy ? draw power from the grid. average used energy: 0. Bill from energy company: 0 . -> no income to maintain the grid. That is why you need a monthly fee, just for being connected to the grid.

    The size of that fee, and whether it should apply to only solar power users or everyone is another matter.

  • by tarpitcod (822436) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:35AM (#28908601)

    It's TANSTAAFL basically. There's a cost to the power company for providing connectivity to a solar users house. It costs them money to run the power lines, and to have the workforce that can service those lines. It costs them money to have capacity available for that Solar user on a cloudy day.

    If users generate more power than they use and feed power back intot he grid - then the power company should pay for it. If they do pay for it - it should defray the cost for that connection.

    A fair system would be an itemized bill that covers all the components of the system. Distribution and line-upkeep are real costs. Just because someone sticks a pile of Solar in their backyard / roof / ranch doesn't mean that magically the power lines running to the house become free.

  • by dedmorris (1137577) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:36AM (#28908607)
    What about the monopoly Xcel has to distribute electricity. That's one hell of a subsidy. Oh, what about the free right of ways across the solar panel owner's property. Maybe the home owners should be permitted to charge for allowing a utility pole on their lawn.
  • by Brian Stretch (5304) * on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:38AM (#28908629) Homepage

    Solar panels produce their highest output when demand is highest, namely on sunny summer days when everyone has their air conditioning cranked up. That's VERY expensive power. Keeping the power company from needing to fire up their peak power generators (versus relying on base load) and helping to prevent brownouts is worth serious $$$. Solar panel output is lowest when cheap base load power is plentiful. In management-speak this is called "synergy".

    The PHB's at Xcel Energy need a whack with a cluestick. Nickel and diming people who are giving you expensive peak power for the price of base load is petty at best.

  • by Cheerio Boy (82178) * on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:39AM (#28908631) Homepage Journal
    If they want to charge a connection fee then so be it. The gas company and other utilities often charge those so there's a track record of that and I doubt you'll be able to fight the lawyers and politicians they own without a lot of trouble.

    The money you would spend to fight them could be better used to move yourself off the grid so you don't have to pay them. Anything. Ever.

    But that's a lifestyle change too so I doubt enough people in the US are going to be motivated enough to do that.

    Note - I live in the US and am reducing my usage until I can find a way to get off the grid. You can do it even in a suburban home if you plan well enough.
  • subject here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by medelliadegray (705137) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:39AM (#28908633)

    It's called a line connection fee. EVERYONE already pays this. There is no reason that solar CONTRIBUTORS should have to be charged to help the power companies, if anything excel should have to pay them. Think about it, power, they dont have to maintain, service, or otherwise pay to implement, comes into their grid magically.

    These guys just want to remain a near monopoly on power generation, so they want to create barriers of entry. People who propose stuff like this should be flogged, or worse.

  • by Raleel (30913) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:43AM (#28908663)

    I can agree with this logic. I do wonder when they will start charging a "feed your extra power back into the grid" fee will begin and any number of other fees that might arise out of this.

  • by jonbryce (703250) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:47AM (#28908691) Homepage

    Surely the price you sell the electricity to the grid for is less than the price you pay to buy it back, and this margin should cover this maintenance charge?

    If you are selling more units of electricity than you buy back, and as a result you don't pay anything, then the electric company is getting free electricity off you which they can sell to someone else to cover the cost.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 01, 2009 @10:55AM (#28908743)

    But they're already charging that fee.
    The FAQ for xcel's own solar rebate program is here [xcelenergy.com], read question 3.

  • by Devout_IPUite (1284636) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:00AM (#28908759)

    Additionally if this became a real problem you'd see two rates, a night rate and a day rate. Then the day rate would be dirt cheap and the night rate would be wicked expensive.

  • by volxdragon (1297215) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:01AM (#28908761)

    The energy companies only have to pay if a persons generation exceeds consumption and as such they start pushing energy back into the grid (IE, spin the meter backwards). It seems perfectly reasonable to assess a fee if you are still hooked up to the grid, someone has to pay for the maintenance of the grid and connection to your house and if you are getting paid for pushing energy back in to the grid, you too are using the grid, only as a provider, not a consumer. Even if you aren't actively pushing energy back into the grid, you still have the option of pulling energy from the grid (say, on cloudy days or at night if you don't have sufficient battery capacity). Either way, you're using it and should help pay for the maintenance of it.

  • by at10u8 (179705) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:04AM (#28908785)
    There are some solar users with battery banks large enough to ride all the way through a typical night, but very few solar users with enough battery to last through a week of storms. In this case the power company's infrastructure is acting as insurance, and a fee like this is the price for that insurance.
  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:21AM (#28908907)

    They've already paid that - it's called a connection fee...

    They're also already getting charged more for the power they do use, since their usage is lower, they get onto a higher cost per KWH rate.

    It's more than double dipping if they try to charge more, and too damned bad if their connection fee didn't cover future (I'm not using much of your power anymore).

  • Re:Similar logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GoRK (10018) <johnl@[ ]rbco.com ['blu' in gap]> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:32AM (#28909001) Homepage Journal

    In your analogy, please don't forget that you'd also be obligated to buy my leftover groceries. However, since you don't know how much I might send back, you have to pay to mail me a big box every week, which I may or may not return.

  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @11:58AM (#28909229)

    A connection fee is a one time, at the time of *connecting the account to the grid* fee.

    You aren't re-connecting every month, so there's no way to charge for "connecting" again and again...

    I'm betting they already pay a *minimum charge* as well since that's been a common REC and Municipality charge for 20 years.

  • by FishWithAHammer (957772) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:19PM (#28909369)

    Actually, around here the connection fee is monthly.

  • by Sniper98G (1078397) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:24PM (#28909405)

    There is one problem with your logic.

    When a customer generate electricity at their home, it goes directly onto the local grid in a residential area. That electricity can then be used by customers in the local area without the need for long distance transmission. So; that means that the power company does not need to generate or transmit that quantity of electricity out to that local grid.

    One of the problems with our current electrical system is that most of the power generation facilities are located far away from the places where power is actually used. this means that elaborate and often inefficient long haul transmission systems are needed to move the power. If more local generation was used then the whole electrical grid could piss a lot less power away on transmission, resulting in lower costs for both power companies and consumers.

  • by Tuoqui (1091447) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @12:29PM (#28909467) Journal

    Unless you store it in battery packs/racks... Which a good number of zero or near-zero solar uses. Might encourage more people to engage in energy self-sufficiency and cut the cord to the grid if the Power Company gets too greedy.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:02PM (#28909823) Homepage Journal

    There is a problem with this logic. If I generate excess energy this month, and if my state requires the electric company to pay me for my energy, then I get a small check and/or credit toward next month's bill. Looking at that credit, I see that the electric company is paying me about half of what they charge me for electricity. Which means, of course, that they are making a profit by redistributing my electricity.

    I HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR MY SHARE OF MAINTENANCE!!

    Yes, maintenance is an important consideration, but they are being paid for that maintenance by every person who pays the utility for electricity. It's all included in the rates approved by the state in which they operate.

    This whole thing is just more dirty politics and greed.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:19PM (#28910003) Homepage Journal

    Ok, so you prevent your system from giving back extra during sunny days ( which is the right thing to do.. ) how would they ever know you can generate your own power? ( hey, we go on vacation a lot so we shut everything off )

    Also, if i'm giving back back to the grid on good days, they are in effect getting free power to distribute elsewhere so they shouldn't bitch about it.

  • by HereIAmJH (1319621) <HereIAmJH@@@hdtrvs...org> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:31PM (#28910125)

    Power companies (generally) don't make a ton of profit, they're regulated to keep costs down.

    This may be pedantic, but they are regulated to keep _prices_ down. As a monopoly, unregulated they could charge any price. Ideally regulation would be customer centric. But in reality, tariffs tend to be based on cost plus formulas. Which is what makes the lack of innovation by electric and telephone companies ludicrous. They were content to sit on their wasteful practices rather than innovate and become more efficient. The Telcos learned the hard way when cellular and cable companies joined the party. Alternative energy production could teach electricity providers some of the same lessons.

  • by KingMotley (944240) * on Saturday August 01, 2009 @01:55PM (#28910371) Journal

    I think you missed the fact that even if the power evens out at the end of the month, solar users are still using the grid. They send (extra) power during the day, and pull power at night (when the panels aren't powerful enough). Hence, even though the net power usage may be 0, a solar user is using the grid every day.

    Of course, if you installed batteries to keep the power, and you ran solely on that (never drained your batteries, etc), then you aren't using the grid as much, but the power company still had to run a line to your house, and maintain it. If a storm knocks out a power line, the power company still has to fix it (and pay for the repairs). Being hooked up to the grid and using a net usage of 0KWH isn't "free" for the power company.

  • by ibbey (27873) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @02:23PM (#28910649) Homepage

    Alot of people here are making various arguments about how the policy is either reasonable or not based solely on their own electric bill. Without knowing more about how Xcel Energy breaks out it's fees, it's not really possible to judge whether the proposed fee is fair or not.

    This much is true, though: There are certain costs involved with building, maintaining and connecting to the grid that are present whether the subscriber uses a single watt of electricity or not. It is perfectly reasonable for the company to try to recoup those costs from all their customers, so making that portion of your bill a fixed fee as opposed to a percentage of usage is quite reasonable. Otherwise, the spokesman is correct that the non-solar users rates will eventually have to be increased to subsidize the infrastructure for those who have solar.

    What isn't reasonable is for the electric company to use a fee such as this as a profit center. If they truly are doing this to be equitable to their users they should implement a reasonable fee, but lower their per kWH rate that users pay so the average non-solar user sees no increase in their current bill.

  • by davester666 (731373) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @03:05PM (#28910941) Journal

    It's also an attempt to get some of that gov't rebate money the homeowner got for installing solar panels...

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:00PM (#28911323) Homepage
    I don't think anyone is arguing that. What his point was is that, how do you calculate this fee. If someone pays it and don't use normal electricity all summer then fine, they're paying a minimal amount to cover maintenance.

    But what about the winter when they may possibly use little to no solar energy? They pull in "normal" electricity, like everyone else, and paying on top of it with this fee. If you have a mixed month it seems pretty costly to have to figure out when and when they shouldn't pay the fee.

    All this comes down to is that they're afraid that being green is catching on (especially with the economy being shit and giving another reason to save) and between having to pay people for extra energy and general use going down, they're afraid their profits are going to disappear. This is a way to maintain the status quo and punish those who are making a positive contribution to the community.

    They think they can pass off this little profit protection racket by playing on American's general dislike for socialism and the selfish idea that you might have to help pay for someone else. Despite al the socialist programs, like medicare, social security, etc that people won't give up, Americans think socialism is bad and they're playing on that by saying you'll have to support your green neighbor when actually that's probably not true and even if it were it doesn't matter when everyone benefits in the end from saving energy.
  • by Jurily (900488) <[jurily] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:02PM (#28911345)

    It is perfectly reasonable for the company to try to recoup those costs from all their customers, so making that portion of your bill a fixed fee as opposed to a percentage of usage is quite reasonable.

    When you buy a loaf of bread, do you get billed for an oven maintenance fee?

  • by mpe (36238) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:48PM (#28911671)
    I don't think anyone is arguing that. What his point was is that, how do you calculate this fee.

    A fairly simple situation would be a fixed amount per month for the connection (possibly related to the capacity of the connection, you can't deliver several kA down a cable suitable for a couple of hundred amps) plus x per Joule (or 3.6Mj) you "consume" minus y per Joule for any you put into the grid.

    All this comes down to is that they're afraid that being green is catching on (especially with the economy being shit and giving another reason to save) and between having to pay people for extra energy and general use going down, they're afraid their profits are going to disappear.

    There profits would go down if people simply used less electricity. Anyway if people are generating their own they need buy less from generating companies.
  • by ibbey (27873) on Saturday August 01, 2009 @04:52PM (#28911697) Homepage

    When you buy a loaf of bread, do you get billed for an oven maintenance fee?

    Of course you do. The fee may not be broken out into an itemized statement, but I guarantee you that the bakery factors their oven maintenance expenses into the price that you pay for that loaf of bread.

    So your entire premise is flawed to begin with, but on top of that your analogy is terrible. A loaf of bread is a one-time purchase, so there are no ongoing expenses involved. All costs involved in its production and delivery are factored into the price you pay at your grocery store. When you connect up to the power grid, there are ongoing maintenance expenses regardless of the amount of electricity you use or you sell back to the electric company. It is perfectly reasonable to pass on those expenses to the homeowner. Otherwise, as the spokesman notes, those costs are absorbed by the other system users who do not have solar, effectively increasing their rates.

  • I have an idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Sunday August 02, 2009 @12:54AM (#28914155) Homepage Journal

    Let's consider the value of the pollution externalities that the power companies benefit from every day, balance that against the cost of hooking wires to my house, and we'll call it even.

    It's a really good deal for the power company.

    To explain further, an externality is an economic term that refers to a cost or an impact on someone not directly involved. When a power company pollutes with a coal plant, there are many people who are impacted by the pollution, even though they are not involved in either the generation or the consumption of the electricity causing the pollution.

    A homeowner bears more than his fair share of the cost of pollution, and a factory which uses far more electricity bears much less than its fair share.

    Clean air is worth something. It has a value. And when that clean air is destroyed, the value is uncompensated. That's an externality.

    So if the electric company wants to charge me for the house hookup, then I would like to start charging the electric company for the value of the clean air I no longer have access to.

    Fair's fair.

  • by ibbey (27873) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @03:55AM (#28914769) Homepage

    I call bullshit on you calling bullshit...

    There is a problem with your reasoning, which is exactly the point the spokesman made. Suppose for a moment that a solar customer generates exactly enough energy to meet his energy demands, no more, no less. Say he does so for a full year. By your logic he should pay nothing to the electric company, which on the surface is perfectly reasonable.

    But what happens if six months into that year, the line up the block from his house is taken down in a windstorm, knocking out incoming power to the homeowner and several of his neighbors? Who should pay to repair the connection? Clearly the power company has to make the repair, since more than one customer is effected, but should the cost of the repair be passed solely to those customers who actually use electricity, or should it be passed on to everyone connected to the grid? After all, even though this homeowner isn't using any incoming electricity, he probably appreciates the fact that the grid is there in case there is a problem with his system or his need increase.

    Remember, the homeowner always has an easy way out of the proposed fee if they really object to paying it-- they can just go completely off grid. For some reason, I doubt that many people will be taking that route any time soon...

  • by ImYourVirus (1443523) on Sunday August 02, 2009 @04:12AM (#28914807)
    Least someone gets my point, yes I understand it costs money to maintain an infrastructure of any kind, but regardless of whether you use a little bit or a lot or even none some months they are still making a profit of some sort, they are just trying to continue to make money even if you start spending less, like it's going to make up for it, more than likely push people to go off the grid completely and in case of emergency just use a generator, that'd be a good goal there.

    And at any rate for the few people that go 'green' and the minimal power they use, they can just be subsidized by the people that don't, the power company isn't really taking that huge of a loss, now say if like 75% or more people were doing this I could understand the fee being imposted, but I'm sure it's not a huge percentage.

    It just come down to the corporate execs making sure they get their bonus's, wouldn't want them to only be able to get 5 cars and 2 boats, instead of 10 cars and 5 boats. /sarcasm

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