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Advocates question Aztec’s solar fees

AZTEC – Solar proponents are questioning whether the fees Aztec Electric Utility charges customers who have solar panels are fair.

The Aztec City Commission heard from these proponents as well as members of the city staff about the solar fees during a work session last week.

The solar proponents say unfair electric fees could discourage people from investing in solar.

“I believe that for every 1 kilowatt-hour of solar, that’s one less kilowatt-hour of fossil fuels,” said David Fosdeck, an advocate for solar power who is also one of the plaintiffs alleging Farmington Electric Utility System’s standby service fee is unfair and discourages solar development.

He said the future of electric utilities is going to be very different, and he alleged that cost of service studies like the one Aztec had done before setting the solar rates have traditionally undervalued solar.

Aztec has very few solar customers. City officials say there are three residential customers and two commercial customers, which is essentially the same number of solar customers the city had when it instituted the new rates a couple years ago.

An Aztec residential bill has two lines for electricity. The first line is called electric service. It includes a minimum fee of $21.25. This is for the first 100 kilowatt-hours a customer uses. Additional usage is charged 4.7 cents per kilowatt-hour up to 500 kilowatt-hours. Customers pay an additional 4.4 cents per kilowatt-hour for usage over 500 kilowatt-hours.

The second line on a residential Aztec utility bill is called electric power cost adjustment. Residential customers pay 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the electric power cost adjustment.

An Aztec residential customer with solar panels would pay a $38 per month minimum fee as well as 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for any electricity they use from the grid.

Aztec does not buy excess power generated by the customers unless a special agreement is in place.

The idea behind the fee is to prevent customers without solar panels from having to pay more for system maintenance and operations as more and more customers install solar. It also allows the city to pay to have electricity on standby in case the solar panels fail or for when the sun is not shining.

The $38 fee is based on the average customer’s electricity usage. City Finance Director Kathy Lamb said the average customer uses 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity monthly and pays $42 a month for power.

Fosdeck and Eli Pavlik, who works with Durango, Colorado-based nonprofit Solar Barn Raising, questioned the fairness of the fees and highlighted that Aztec is one of the few utilities in the state with a fee for solar customers. They acknowledged that it does cost the utility money to provide backup power to customers with solar panels, however they questioned if $38 a month could be excessive.

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