In July, I blogged about a proposal that Arizona Public Service (APS) submitted to its regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), to dramatically reduce incentives to install solar panels on homes and businesses. On Wednesday more than 100 people descended on ACC to protest it. The event kicked off two days of hearings that will decide whether to maintain Arizona’s existing net metering policy, which allows solar customers to receive credit on their electricity bills for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by their solar panels.
Update (Nov. 15): Yesterday afternoon, the ACC voted 3-2 to maintain a solar net metering program, with a fee on rooftop solar customers of $0.70 per kilowatt (kW) installed. The fee will be imposed on new solar customers and is far less than that proposed by APS, which was in the $5.00 per kW range. The reduced fee is seen as a compromise, but it makes Arizona the first state to target rooftop solar customers with new fees. Greentech Media reports that some in the solar industry believe this new charge is a slippery slope.
A whopping 43 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted net metering policies, which has had a huge impact on the number of people going solar across the country.
In Arizona, the number of installed solar systems in APS’s service territory has increased from just 900 in 2009 to more than 18,000 today, and the ACC attributes much of this growth to the success of net metering.
A Republican pollster from Public Opinion Strategies named Glen Bolder recently surveyed 300 Arizonans, and found that 81 percent opposed APS’s proposal to reduce net metering incentives. Notably, 77 percent would be less likely to vote for a candidate who ends solar savings. While 300 people is just a small sample of the state’s population, those numbers are consistent with national polling showing Americans favor solar over all other energy types.
UCS supporters are among the thousands of Arizonans who have taken action to tell the ACC to protect solar. In October, ACC staff listened and recommended that the utility’s request be rejected so that the issue can be taken up during the next hearing on APS rates in 2015. The memorandum from ACC staff also emphasized that the benefits of solar, such as avoiding fossil fuel costs, are integral to the conversation, and concluded that the value of these benefits can best be determined in the context of a general rate case.
When all the relevant facts can be considered, APS deserves props for the progress it is making on solar, including the innovative Solona project that provides solar power even when the sun does not shine. But APS has admitted to funding groups behind ideological attacks on solar in Arizona, including a fact-check-failing ad attempting to deceive Arizonans about the cost of net metering to non-solar customers. Many of the groups siding with APS are known for their history of climate denial, including the Edison Electric Institute and 60 Plus Association. Just last year, 60 Plus urged members of Congress to “oppose confirmation of any adherent of ‘global warming’ to the EPA.”
Recent headlines have highlighted “unlikely” support for solar policies from conservatives. In Arizona, it is easy to see why this support is actually not at all surprising. One APS proposal “removes a basic choice from the customer,” according to ACC staff, while another “denies the residential customer the right to offset energy purchases from the utility with self-generation on a one-to-one basis.”
Still, the outcome of Arizona’s solar debate could have far reaching implications. APS recently rejoined the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the same fossil fuel-funded group behind this year’s failed attacks on state renewable energy standards. As ALEC looks to weigh in on net metering, signs point to state solar policies as the next target of fossil fuel funded think tanks and advocacy groups.
The final decision could be made as soon as today by ACC’s elected commissioners, which means you still have time to take action by clicking here. Tell the ACC to maintain Arizona’s successful solar incentives!