Idaho has a tremendous opportunity to transition from being a dirty energy importer to a clean energy exporter in the Pacific Northwest. In Idaho we have the opportunity to build a clean energy economy that will lead the state into the future. Solar is particularly good at telling the story of this economic growth in Idaho. The Solar Foundation's 2017 National Solar Job Census shows that Idaho's solar employment grew by 7% last year, representing more than 600 jobs across the state. Energy efficiency, the cleanest energy resource availible in Idaho, is also a huge economic driver in the state employing more than 2,000 folks statewide.
The Idaho Sierra Club is dedicated to expanding opportunities for all Idahoans to participate in and benefit from the clean energy economy. The Idaho Chapter is a leading advocate with our utility companies on resource planning, energy regulators to ensure fair valuation of clean resources, local leaders on innovative programs to increase access to renewable energy and the general public through our energy democracy programs.
Community solar allows people to subscribe to a share of a larger solar farm located in your area, providing a pathway to investment in local renewable energy projects. The Sierra Club was the leading voice pushing for community solar in Idaho - recognizing the need for new policies to bring clean energy online and the importance of reducing our reliance on dirty, expensive fossil fuels. Community solar also provides the unique opportunity for people who cannot invest in rooftop solar because it is either too expensive or their rooftop is not suitable for any number of reasons (shade, multi-family dwellings, etc.).
After Sierra Club successful advocacy with Idaho Power got the company to agree a pilot program, we played an instrumental role in designing a program improvements at the Public Utilities Commission to bring Idaho our first community solar pilot project. Since then, we have been helping spread the word about this great option for investing in local clean energy and signed up for our very own subscription to the program.
Community solar is an increasingly attractive offer for utilities as they move beyond pilot programs. In Idaho, we need to work to make this pilot program work and continue to improve upon the design to provide a better value of solar and increased access for customers to choose clean energy.
Despite increased popularity and decreased costs, rooftop solar is under attacked once again in Idaho. The rooftop solar policy currently under consideration at the Public Utilities Commission is called "net metering," which is the process where the owner of a solar panel is paid fair rates by the power company for the electricity they are contributing to the grid, providing locally generated power to their neighbors and friends. Utility companies across the country have been attempting to curtail the rates it pays back to customers, which creates fewer incentives for private investments in clean energy and curtails energy freedoms.
Idaho Power currently is asking to take a first step aimed at revising the program by asking for the establishment of a new rate class, laying the groundwork for changes that will affect both current and future solar customers and installers. The Sierra Club is actively involved in the docket due to concerns about the flawed process and limited, discriminatory scope of targeting such a small class of customers. We will be launching a public awareness campaign advocating for continued protections for self-generators, a fair process to look at net metering, good values for solar, and a bright future for clean energy in Idaho.
Watch the short video below to learn more about how net metering works.