Last week, Minnesota regulators agreed with Fresh Energy, putting a halt to discriminatory fees that had been charged to wind and solar customers of at least 14 electric co-ops throughout the state.
- Most of the fees had been implemented in the winter and spring of this year and were by far the largest in the country – as high as $83 per month.
- The fees stem from legislation passed in the chaotic closing seconds of the 2015 legislative session.
- The Public Utilities Commission, in agreeing with Fresh Energy’s filing, has ruled that it has oversight over the basis for any such fees, that each co-op must produce the cost of service study the fees are based upon, and that the fees cannot be implemented until that review has taken place to ensure they are consistent with state law.
This ruling was the first step in what figures to be a long process at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to review fees that some cooperative utility customers are charged for distributed energy systems. While co-ops have begun charging fees that are much higher than other utilities (both in Minnesota, and nationally), similar fees charged are all utilities in the state are set to be examined as part of ongoing dockets in the next several months.
The precedent set by this comprehensive decision will be critical as dockets move forward at the PUC. While recent changes to state statute allow for “fair and reasonable” fees to be implemented in order for a cooperative or municipal utility to recover the fixed cost of serving a customer with a distributed energy system, the PUC made it clear that it will undertake a serious review to ensure the methodology for calculating that fee and the process for implementing them is consistent with state law.
Fresh Energy, along with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and other partners will continue to push to make sure fees that do not account for distributed solar and wind benefits and unfairly burden customer energy options, like those proposed by the co-ops, are not approved in Minnesota.
*Photo courtesy of Aquilla Solar