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Black Hills Energy abandons solar tariff for now

Black Hills Energy headquarters in Rapid City.
Lee Strubinger
Black Hills Energy headquarters in Rapid City.

Black Hills Energy says it is no longer proposing rate changes for its customers with solar panels.

That comes after statewide environmental group issued a report they say counters the utility’s claims those with solar panels are costing those without more money.

South Dakota ranks last in the nation for solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Members of Dakota Rural Action said that’s in part due to how utility company Black Hills Energy reimburses solar panel users who put energy back onto the grid.

“So, we’ve got a huge resource, but we’re not taking advantage of it,” said Rick Bell, a member of Dakota Rural Action.

In addition to the reimbursement rate, two years ago, Black Hills Energy wanted the PUC to approve a tariff that charges those who generate their own solar market rate for the power they use. Part of the argument is solar customers aren’t paying their fair share on fixed infrastructure costs.

The PUC sent the tariff back to the company and told it to work out differences with interveners on the case.

One of those interveners is Bell, who along with Dakota Rural Action commissioned an economic impact study on the issue. They say the report shows Black Hill Energy receives a 2.2 cent per kilowatt hour benefit from customers who generate solar energy on their homes over 25 years.

Dakota Rural Action

“It’s a net benefit to them to have more behind the meter solar under their system. That lends itself to them being able to incentivize us to do that,” Bell said. “The way they’re going to incentivize us is to give us more for the power we’re generating. So, it’s a win-win. So, we’re working toward making that happen.”

Black Hills Energy officials said they have received Dakota Rural Action's study.

"Black Hills Energy is not proposing any changes to our current rate structures at this time. We have efforts underway and will continue to evaluate the impacts and opportunities of the changing solar landscape," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Black Hills Energy remains committed to providing safe, reliable and cost-effective energy to our customers for years to come."

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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