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TID approves 2015 budget with electric rate increase
District postpones solar changes

While Turlock Irrigation District customers can expect an increase in electrical service rates at the beginning of the new year, one thing that will not change is the district’s currently implemented solar program.

“I think that we should move forward today, but send staff back with the project of trying to find a way to present a revenue-neutral way of allowing our new solar customers to sign up and be recognized on an annual basis, but not lean on our other non-solar customers,” said TID Director Michael Frantz. “Maybe it’s not possible, but I’d like to see us try.”

The decision became official during Tuesday’s meeting, with the Board of Directors' unanimous vote to approve TID’s 2015 budget, as well as schedule of other charges.

“For the last three and a half months, we’ve been talking about various elements of our 2015 budget,” said Assistant General Manager of Financial Services and Chief Financial Officer Joe Malaski. “What our budget calls for is essentially a six million increase in base rates for the electric side and also has embedded the water rates that have been discussed with the Board on several occasions.”

Effective in January, electric service rates will increase by 2 percent to address a revenue shortfall of $16.7 million. This increase will cover approximately $6 million of the shortfall, which is attributed to a variety of factors, including the relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and higher labor costs.

To cover the remaining deficit, the district will utilize a Power Supply Adjustment and their Rate Stabilization Fund.

In addition to the electric service rate changes approved on Tuesday, damage meter charges and materials and services schedule of charges were finalized for February adoption. The Board also approved 2015 hourly equipment rates and hourly labor rates for work billed to others, all of which will become effective with the new year.

However, when board room discussions once again shifted towards new solar, it was made clear that one aspect would not face approval. 

“Solar is a very complicated situation, so I’m happy to put some time into a workshop and have you walk us through the dynamics and details of it so we can better understand it,” commented Frantz.

Since reaching its established peak of 27.81 megawatts of solar generation, the district is no longer obligated to continue California net metering to additional customer-generators in the service area.

Last week, TID staff approached the Board with their recommended rate design for new solar customers. This recommendation was met with mixed opinions from solar customers and providers, particularly concerning the district’s proposed transition from annual net metering to monthly net metering.

“We’re proposing to change it to monthly because what happens is we pay the retail rate that is higher than what the actual value of the electricity is to us,” said Energy Strategy Department Manager Amy Petersen at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is because we have other costs incorporated in our energy charge since we don’t charge a full demand component.”

Director Rob Santos voiced his concerns about monthly net metering, citing the possibility of de-incentivizing farmers and commercial businesses from pursuing solar. 

The director’s thoughts were echoed by JKB Energy director of business development Rich Borba, who asked the Board to pull out the proposal completely.

“Basically, solar is dead right now. They reached the cap and they’re not taking any new applications in any way,” said Borba. “I’m glad they’re coming back with changes, but I’m disappointed that they are implementing this program in the interim.”

According to General Manager Casey Hashimoto, the Board’s decision will prompt staff to hold a second workshop sometime in the first quarter of 2015. That way, both the Board and staff can address issues present in the current proposal.

 “We want to provide fairness to all of our customers and not put up an artificial barrier, so it is a balancing act,” concluded Petersen. “Anything that we give to one customer, we have to make sure we’re not taking from another customer to do it.”