Council eager on solar

Penticton city council is pushing city staff to explore options to make it possible for electrical customers to annually “bank” credits on their utility bills when they sell power back to the grid. 

Electrical utility manager Shawn Filice was before council Tuesday to respond to a group of residents that appeared last month to request the municipality tweak its policies to make residential solar more attractive to homeowners. 

Filice’s presentation recommended sticking with the status quo, arguing the current system prevents regular utility customers from subsidizing those with “net metering.” He said allowing customers with solar panels to bank credits generated during sunny months for the darker winter months would unfairly shift the burden of electrical grid’s fixed costs like labour and maintenance to regular customers. 

Right now net-metering customers see their accounts reset at the end of each month.

There are currently only 34 “net-metered” customers in the city and overhauling the municipality's billing system to accommodate their request would cost $60,000, Filice continued. 

His pitch for the status quo was met with resistance from council.

“What we’ve got here is a classic argument from staff and no action, which equals no progress,” Coun. Julius Bloomfield said. “Without progress in the system, equals a loss of support for our city utility from the consumer. The consumers expect progress.”

If cheaper electrical rates and more flexible net-metering policies are being made available to FortisBC customers just outside city limits, “then what is the benefit of having the city utility to the consumer?” Bloomfield mused.

He also dismissed the $60,000 estimate to accommodate billing the handful of net-metering customers the city currently has, arguing an “accountant with a calculator” could reconcile the accounts in a day. 

The rest of council mostly agreed, with some councillors adding the city should be encouraging homeowners to generate their own electricity. Should there be a surge in residential solar in Penticton, policies can be adjusted at that point. 

The issue was punted back to city staff to develop a report on a plan to allow net-metering customers a way to bank credits annually. A few other requests from the citizen group, like waiving application fees, will not be considered. 

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