Shedding New Light on Solar Power & Net-Metering

Solar panel array with clouds in the backgroundOn the surface, solar power is a marvelous technology; solar panels effortlessly turn sunshine into electricity! If a homeowner installs and connects solar panels to their side of the meter, they can offset some of their energy purchases. This interconnection is called net-metering and it requires coordination between homeowners, solar installers, and the electric utility.

Net metering can sometimes put solar installers and electric utilities at odds, but that is not always the case.

“Clearwater Power seeks to be neither a barrier nor a subsidy for net-metering.” Says Jeff Marshall, Director of Member Relations. “As a not-for-profit cooperative, our goal is to provide reliable and low-cost power to the membership. There are no shareholders to satisfy, there are no profit margins to pursue. We welcome people who choose to offset their consumption.”

Fact Finding

Most of us go online to do basic research. When searching for content related to solar power, it’s challenging to sift through articles that are biased in one direction or the other.

“There are a lot of biased, exaggerated or false claims floating around out there,” says Marshall, who advises people to contact Clearwater Power for more information.

“We can provide basic, factual information. Members who install solar on their homes are still going to be members and owners of our cooperative. We can be honest with them about how it will impact their electric service.”

Generation Expectations

A solar retailer may provide their estimate of how much you will generate but if you want to do your own research, we recommend an online calculator from the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This tool estimates how much you will generate each month based on your location, system-size and other variables. We have found it to be a very accurate estimator for various locations and system sizes.

Matching Generation to Consumption

Obviously, the larger the system, the greater the generation. It may not be financially beneficial to “over-build” a system. If you are seeking the best financial payback, you will want to design a system that is proportional to your consumption. You can contact Clearwater Power any time to request your consumption history. You can also use our SmartHub tool to see it for yourself.

Rate Increases

Over the past 10 years, Clearwater Power’s rates have increased by an average of about 1.4% per year. That is far below inflation – electricity costs have risen much more slowly than groceries, gasoline, or other living expenses. Some solar installers claim that electric rates tend to increase by 7% annually which is extremely inaccurate in our area.

Continuing Energy Bills

A typical electric bill is mostly made up of energy charges (kWh). Solar panels will definitely reduce those charges. But some of the charges on your electric bill are fixed, as they help to pay for some of the fixed costs in maintaining the electric grid. Your bill also includes a demand charge which is proportional to the ‘scale’ of the energy that passes through your meter. Those charges will always be present so long as you are connected to the grid.

Sense of Urgency

There are lot of ads, especially on YouTube, that make it seem that this is your ‘last chance to go solar.’ That is not accurate. Clearwater Power offers net-metering by choice in Idaho and follows state guidelines for net metering in Washington and Oregon. The program has existed for over twenty years and is not going anywhere. There may be some tax incentives to help people on their initial investments. Here is a great, up-to-date resource to find incentives available to you.

Bottom Line

It is wise to contact Clearwater Power first. We can answer questions to help you make your investment decisions and guide you through our net-metering requirements such as:

  • A lockable disconnect switch (in case our line crews are working nearby and need to isolate any generation system)
  • A state electrical inspection
  • A net-metering agreement signed by you the member
  • A one-time inspection fee
  • A new electric meter that is capable of recording your generation to offset your bill. (Standard electric meters cannot differentiate consumption and generation.)

It should be noted that one of the great benefits of solar power is that it produces carbon-free power on site. Fortunately, Clearwater Power’s electric generation is over 95% carbon-free (83% hydropower, 11% nuclear, 1% wind & 5% unspecified).