Solar gardens in the mix

Franchise agrees to allow local remote net metering

Consumers claiming energy credit from solar gardens planted far from their homes could soon bloom in Durango.

This principle of “remote net metering” is one of the selling points in the second go-round of a proposed franchise agreement with the La Plata Electric Association, the membership-owned cooperative serving La Plata and Archuleta counties.

Remote net metering was in the original franchise agreement that was narrowly defeated by the voters in April, costing the city $600,000 in lost revenue from the franchise fees that the LPEA passes onto consumers’ electric bills.

“We did not do a very good job of educating the public,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc acknowledged during a public hearing on the draft ordinance for the latest version of the proposed franchise Monday.

Another hearing on the franchise is scheduled for noon today in City Council Chambers in Durango City Hall.

Not wanting to risk defeat again, the city is playing up the franchise’s attributes in hopes that a 20-year agreement with LPEA will pass with the voters’ approval in November’s general election.

Jeff Berman, a city resident who serves on the LPEA board of directors, said remote net metering is one reason why he would vote for LPEA to accept the franchise since he thinks it would eventually force the electric co-op to allow remote net metering throughout its two-county service area.

“Maybe this one entity will have a trigger effect,” Berman said.

“My feeling, and I’m not speaking for the board, as you all know, is if we allow the city to do it then we have to treat all our members the same,” Berman said. “It’s a membership cooperative. I think it would be unfair to say, ‘Dick, you can have a solar system. Sweetie, sorry, we just don’t like you as much.’ So that would be unfair.”

Renewable and clean-energy candidates feel LPEA has been “dragging its feet” on remote net metering, which has become widespread across the country.

In an interview, City Councilor Dick White said he has “friends out in the county with 5 acres that they would love to put solar panels on but they can’t use (all) that power. They would like to send that power (to a friend) and then LPEA can offset their bill.”

To also make the franchise more attractive, consumers would be charged only for their energy consumption. Previously, the LPEA franchise fee was based on the gross receipt or all LPEA charges, including sales taxes, which led critics to call it a “tax on tax.”

For simplicity sake, the fee rate of 4.67 percent would remain in place. City officials believe population and business growth will compensate for the revenue loss that would result in just basing the charge on energy consumption.

Councilor Sweetie Marbury likes the proposed rate structure for the power it gives to the consumer.

“I am in charge of what I consume,” she said.

jhaug@durangoherhald.com

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