The debate over solar homes and net metering is continuing to heat up, particularly in Arizona. The state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS) is coming under fire for its efforts to gut net-metering. On Oct. 20, The Arizona Republic ran an article showing that the utility was approached by a lobbying firm to help shape and change the state’s regulatory body, the Arizona Corporation Commission, to make it easier for the utility to essentially do whatever it wants in terms of renewable energy. That revelation led to protests outside APS’ headquarters this week and now the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association (AriSEIA) and the Alliance for Solar Choice are calling for investigations into the utility’s lobbying efforts.
APS is attempting to change how it pays for net-metered customers with solar-powered homes. The company wants to add additional fees and or reduce the rates it pays for net-metering. The changes could hurt the spread of solar in the state and force solar installers to lay employees off.
At the heart of the newest controversy is a 2009 report from the political consulting firm Lincoln Strate gy Group called “The Institute for Energy Policy.” The report, recently provided to the newspaper, made recommendations that APS helped fund out-of-state non-profits, like an eponymous Institute for Energy Policy, which would be based in Washington, D.C. to generate research showing that the commission’s decisions added costs for ratepayers, according to The Arizona Republic. The article also said these non-profits should operate in multiple states and appear as grassroots efforts rather than utility-driven organizations.
While APS executives and representatives said they fully rejected the plan and said the report was unsolicited, Lincoln Strategy has said it was prepared at APS’ request. Either way, APS hired or rehired one of the Lincoln Strategy lobbyists who worked on the report, Jessica Pacheco. She was a former employee of APS but left in 2007, ending up at Lincoln Strategy before returning to APS in 2009.
APS denies adopting the tactics recommended in the report but the company recently admitted that it has helped fund two non-profits, 60 Plus and Prosper that have run TV and print advertisements against rooftop solar. APS previously denied funding the non-profit organizations. However, the utility company continues to deny that ratepayer funds were used to support the anti-solar efforts, claiming that the funds came from profits that would have gone to APS parent company, PinnacleWest Capital Corp. Those claims are being challenged.
“Arizonans deserve to know whether ratepayer money is being used by APS to kill rooftop solar," said Bryan Miller, president of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). "The fact that APS repeatedly lied to the public, including its regulators, calls for a thorough investigation. As a monopoly entrusted to serve all Phoenix area residents, APS owes the public better.”
Likewise, AriSEIA is calling for an investigation. “Having already lied once about what funds they were using and with whom, we hope the Arizona Corporation Commission will help us and the public get answers from APS about whether ratepayer funds are being used for their efforts to upend rooftop solar in Arizona. No one should take their word for it any longer,” AriSEIA said. “We hope the Commission can undertake an investigation of the company’s accounting practices and movements of money.”
TASC and AriSEIA are calling on the Arizona Corporation Commission to review APS’s political spending and whether ratepayers have or are paying for lobbying. TASC observed that it’s unclear what other non-ratepayer money Pinnacle West could have used to pay for the lobbying and advertising efforts.
In addition, TASC is calling on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether APS engaged in consumer fraud. “APS has now admitted that it lied repeatedly about funding numerous dark money attacks to kill off an entire Arizona industry," TASC said. "Given the effect of this conduct on consumers of electricity—which is all of us—and the hardworking folks employed by Arizona-based solar organizations, uncovering APS’s wrongdoing should be a top priority for the Attorney General’s Office."
TASC also adds that APS may have violated state law if it lied to a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission about funneling money to political organizations that are attacking solar energy.