The solar industry has been fighting in the trenches for the past few months as the utility, Arizona Power (APS), used under-handed ways to eliminate net-metering.
Despite an unprecedented multi-million-dollar campaign, Arizona regulators rejected the utility’s drive to eliminate net-metering for solar systems in the state.
About 1,000 people showed up to protest before last week’s vote. While state regulators did decide to impose a monthly fee for people that have solar systems, at 5% it is much smaller than APS requested.
Regulators voted for a fixed fee of $0.70 per kilowatt (kW) starting next year, which amounts to $7 for a 10 kW system. Existing solar systems will not be charged.
“Any tax on solar hinders market growth, but at this level at least the industry can continue to grow,” says The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), which vows to continue opposes similar moves in other states.
Closely watched by utilities across the country, it would have set a problematic precedent had Arizona Power won.
Background on the Case
Arizona’s net-metering law, in place since 2009, allows homeowners and businesses that have solar systems to sell excess electricity back to the grid.
Over the past few years, strong growth of small solar systems has resulted in utilities running scared. As we’ve reported numerous times, their traditional business model of making money by selling more energy is threatened by the increasing number of independent power generators.
Utilities argue that customers with rooftop solar aren’t paying their fair share to maintain the grid – they are being “subsidized by customers who don’t have solar.” As more people rely less on grid-based solar, they say, that puts the burden of paying for utilities’ services on fewer and fewer people. This isn’t true – people that run on solar still pay the same monthly service charges.
In this case, Arizona Power wants to charge people that have solar systems a separate $50-$100 per month, creating a disincentive for investing in solar.
Money Rolls In
To win its campaign, Arizona Power went so far as to channel millions of dollars through shady, conservative front groups that ran ads discrediting the solar industry.
One of the groups – 60 Plus – is among the too-many-to-count Koch Brother funded-groups. And APS quietly joined ALEC.
Uncovered by the newspaper, Arizona Republic, the utility lied about it to ratepayers, reporters, and state regulators. The revelation came after Bob Burns, Commissioner of Arizona Corporation Commission ordered the utility to disclose all funds spent to kill energy competition in Arizona, says TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed).
“The monopoly utility, when not wasting ratepayer funds concocting new propaganda materials, continues its scheme to reduce the rate it pays for solar so it can sell it at a higher profit. Net metering requires utilities to fairly compensate rooftop solar customers who send electricity back to the grid. APS is seeking to end this successful policy. In the meantime, APS ignores its own subsidies as subsidies for solar in the state of Arizona have largely come to an end.
Since 1985, APS has received federal and state subsidies for nuclear and fossils in the range of $900 million to $1 billion, reports TUSK.
“First they say they have nothing to do with ads attacking Arizona rooftop solar customers. That turned out to be a lie. Now it turns out that they are spending millions to launch these attacks. It makes you wonder where their priorities are. If they had put this amount of time and energy into actually being innovative and planning for solar expansion, they would not have found themselves in this position,” says Barry Goldwater Jr., the son of the famous Republican, who chairs TUSK.