Rate Updates and New Programs from OPALCO Coming in 2022
The November OPALCO Board Meeting included several changes for cooperative members including a 4% rate increase for all members, a change to the way solar producers get paid for the excess power they sell back to the co-op, and exciting additions to the Switch It Up! program including rooftop solar and battery storage systems.
The 2022 OPALCO annual budget was approved and included a 4% rate increase. Due to COVID, OPALCO did not increase rates in 2021 but must resume a normal schedule of rate increases to keep up with inflation, the rising cost of power and labor, and to manage the Co-op’s equity position. The Co-op uses equity to borrow federal funds for major capital projects, like the submarine cable replacements that are scheduled in the next 10-20 years. Starting in 2022, members may also notice a $2 convenience fee for credit card transactions which will help lower operating costs (and keep rates down).
After six months of board discussion and consideration of member feedback on both sides of the issue, OPALCO’s Board of Directors approved a new tariff and policy that will change the structure of how OPALCO buys back excess power from members who generate their own power. Local solar producers will see a credit in dollars on their bill each month for excess power production and the surplus is banked on their power bill (instead of banking kWh credits). The rate OPALCO pays for their excess production will be $0.0849/kWh (for 2022 the tariffs will include a 4% increase). The new tariff goes into effect on January 1, 2022, and existing solar producers can remain on the legacy rate by letting OPALCO know by June 30, 2022.
Since 2014, OPALCO has facilitated ~$1.6M in solar benefits to cooperative members through various programs. “When the power goes out on the mainland, OPALCO benefits tremendously from locally generated power and battery back-up,” said General Manager Foster Hildreth. “It’s HOW we support it that has to change: we’ll support solar through programs and not in the rates themselves.”
At the 2022 Annual Meeting (April 30th), OPALCO will roll out new Switch it Up! funds that will offer members the chance to finance solar and battery storage projects on their power bills. Switch it Up! gives members access to USDA Rural Energy Savings Program funds at 2% interest. Members in good standing can get projects installed with no money down, which removes a significant barrier to rooftop solar for many members. In addition, the Board directed staff to create a new voluntary member program to support access to the benefits of solar for low-income member households. Staff will host energy roundtable sessions in the new year to start that process.
As part of the Island Way campaign, we will be offering in-depth discussions and opportunities for members to participate in how OPALCO’s rates will be changing over the next ten years. As the region transitions to a new era of renewable power generation and a carbon-free future there will be big changes within the energy industry. There is a fundamental flaw in the way utilities currently collect revenue: it depends heavily on selling power to cover our operational costs. We are facing a paradigm shift with widespread adoption of energy efficiency measures, conservation and local power production and must change our rate structures to keep covering the cost to deliver power outside of kWh sales.
For the full presentation on the 2022 Budget Report, solar rates, and an appendix of member feedback received, check out the November board materials online: https://www.opalco.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/November-2021-Board-Materials.pdf. Staff are available to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is our member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,400 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97% greenhouse-gas free and is generated predominantly by hydroelectric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937. Follow OPALCO @OrcasPower on Facebook and Twitter.