Prospects dim for solar gardens

New LPEA franchise would not mandate them, director says

Berman Enlarge photo

Berman

The Durango City Council got an apology from La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors member Jeff Berman, who said he was sorry for raising expectations that a new franchise agreement necessarily will lead to community solar gardens.

“It may, but I’ve been on the board for seven years, and I’m skeptical,” Berman said in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Berman said he wanted to temper expectations because he has observed some resistance from LPEA staff about implementing the concept of virtual remote net metering, which would allow consumers to claim energy credit from a community solar garden or even from a neighbor’s solar panel.

Indiana Reed, a spokeswoman for LPEA, also noted the franchise agreement does not “mandate” remote net metering.

The proposed franchise says only that LPEA and the city “agree to cooperatively explore and attempt to develop a franchise policy or tariff that allows for a system of remote net metering that is of benefit to franchisee and its members, but would not be subsidized by other customers.”

Based on a close reading of the franchise and a staff report at a recent LPEA board meeting, Berman told the council Tuesday that he was “sorry to say that it’s not my opinion that the franchise agreement will bring us any closer to having community solar garden capabilities. It was my hope that would be the case.”

Berman told the Herald that the LPEA staff report was a “litany of whatever possible objection could be thought up” to remote net metering.

LPEA staff does not seem to share the enthusiasm of neighboring cooperatives such as San Miguel County in promoting remote net metering, said Berman, who represents the city on the LPEA board.

Because the franchise will be put to city voters in November, Berman said he wanted to be sure voters knew what they were voting on.

On Tuesday, the City Council also debated the franchise ballot language as Councilor Paul Broderick was accused by Mayor Doug Lyon of trying to make “11th-hour changes” and “Christmas tree” it with numerous additions.

City Attorney David Smith also said it was not Broderick’s place to insert possible objections to the franchise into the ballot because the ballot language was supposed to be neutral.

Broderick got the council to agree to add the 20-year term of the franchise into the ballot language and say that revenue from the LPEA franchise fee would go into the city’s general operating fund.

The council rejected a third suggestion saying the franchise fee would be paid by the consumers or rate payers.

This was considered redundant and technically inaccurate because LPEA does not necessarily have to pass the 4.67 percent fee on energy consumption to consumers. LPEA could “eat the cost” and pay for the fee itself, said City Manager Ron LeBlanc.

LPEA has leeway because the Public Utilities Commission has given utilities permission to pass franchise fees on to consumers as a line item on their bills.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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