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Willmar Utilities Commission OKs solar and wind payment rate

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission has set a rate that will be paid to customers who generate more electricity from their solar and wind facilities than they buy from the city-owned utility.

WILLMAR - The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission has set a rate that will be paid to customers who generate more electricity from their solar and wind facilities than they buy from the city-owned utility.
The commission on Monday approved paying an average retail utility energy rate of 10.03 cents per kilowatt hour to utility customers who have a qualifying facility that has a capacity of producing less than 40 kilowatts of energy. The amount will be calculated at the end of each month.
The commission approved the rate after holding a public hearing. Utilities Finance Director Tim Hunstad said the payment amount was based on a formula in state statute. The amount was calculated using Willmar’s 2015 electric rates.
The commission scheduled the public hearing after utility staff recently received an application for a residential solar panel facility. State statute requires municipal utilities to use a uniform statewide contract for all interconnections with qualifying facilities that produce less than 40 kilowatts.
Under the statute, when the energy generated by the qualifying facility exceeds that supplied by the utility during a billing period, the utility must compensate the qualifying facility for the excess energy at the “average retail utility energy rate.’’
Two people attended and spoke during the hearing.
Kristian Nyberg from the environmental nonprofit group Clean Up the River Environment, headquartered in Montevideo, said CURE has many members interested in supporting and developing solar energy.
He said they believe that distributed solar energy is a right, and he said a need to support solar energy is a form of supporting energy freedom for municipal customers in the Willmar area.
Nyberg said he wanted to make sure that the commission was not considering implementing fees on solar that are above the average retail utility energy rate allowed by law. Nyberg said the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has stated distributed solar energy has a public good and should be looked at as such, and he thought that the utility would be setting an excess fee in violation of state statutes. Erik Hatlestad, with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which represents students in the political process, said he would like to see municipal utilities enable their customers and citizens of Willmar to secure their own energy freedom by being involved in the process of electric production.
“We’ve already seen that distributed wind and solar is much more affordable,’’ he said. “It creates energy at a very cheap rate. This has the potential to be good for all parties involved, both consumers and as well for the people who are generating the electricity on their own property.’’
Commission Vice President Dan Holtz thanked Nyberg and Hatlestad for their comments. Commissioner Joe Gimse Gimse asked Hunstad to clarify the rate discussion. Hunstad said the utility will pay the rate at the end of the month if there is a balance due to the customer.
“That’s the rate that will be paid,’’ he said.
In putting together the policy and the rate, Hunstad said the utility “absolutely followed state statute in doing that and there is no additional fixed charge being applied to any distributed generation rate, no additional rate or charge to customers.’’
The commission’s action will be forwarded to the Willmar City Council for final action.
In other business, the commissioners were told that the utility will apply for a state variance to reduce the amount of fluoride the utility puts into the municipal drinking water supply.
Joel Braegelman, water and heating supervisor, explained the variance will allow the utility to reduce the fluoride concentration to an average of 0.7 milligrams per liter. The variance follows new guidance recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a letter from the Minnesota Department of Health, the recommendation was based on recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services scientific assessments to balance the benefits of preventing tooth decay with fluoride while limiting any potential negative health effects of high fluoride consumption, such as brown spots on the teeth, in young children.
Braegelman also said it is cheaper.

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