$4.7 million. That’s an estimate of how much money was spent on advertising campaigns by rooftop solar opponents and advocates in Arizona as the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS) tries to implement a solar fee on rooftop solar users. This is the latest in a brouhaha that has pitted the rooftop solar industry against the utility in the nation's sunniest state in a debate over net-metering that’s being watched across the country. The regulatory body, Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) takes up the issue today (Nov. 13) and tomorrow, and could make a decision on the issue as soon as tomorrow.
As the ACC takes up the matter, Arizonans are taking to the streets to protest APS’s proposed tax, according to The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). “The rally kicks off two days of hearings on net metering at the ACC. It comes as new poll results reveal that strong public support for solar continues despite a multi-million dollar assault on solar savings and energy choice waged by APS.”
The majority of the $4.2 million was spent by APS ($3.7 million) and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) ($520,000) in an attempt to reduce the net-metering incentives APS offers and to impose a fee on rooftop solar owners. Meanwhile solar advocates paid $436,000 to support net metering in the state. That’s according to The Republic, which said that state regulators required both APS parent company, Pinnacle West, and TASC to disclose how much they’ve spent campaigning on the net-metering issue.
At the heart of the issue, and why it’s of national significance, is the basic question: How much should utilities reimburse or credit residents and businesses for the solar electricity their PV array generates, also called net-metering. Utilities are used to buying energy at wholesale rates and selling it at retail rates. Yet net-metering policies, like those in Arizona, force them to pay or credit more for the solar power produced by home and business owners. In the case of Arizona, utilities currently credit net-metered solar electricity at the retail rate, and if the home produces more power than it uses, they reconcile the remainder at an ‘avoided cost rate’, which means the amount the utility would have had to pay if it sourced the power from other sources like more expensive peak power plants.
APS argues that it needs to reconcile the extra amount that it’s crediting solar users with a fee on those with solar arrays and that without such a fee it’s costing other customers more to deliver power to them. On the other hand, if the utility were funding a new utility-scale project or transmission line project, it would likely ask the ACC to allow it to impose a fee on all its customers to recoup the cost of the project, so even though solar owners are paying the same amount for money they buy off the grid as other customers do (and are paying to support additional solar power) this would be a special fee imposed on them for choosing to go solar in the first place.
The majority of the public in Arizona support net-metering, according to a recent poll by Republican pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies. His survey of 300 likely voters in Maricopa County between Nov. 6 and 7 found that 81 percent of those surveyed reject APS’ solar tax. "A stunning 77% would be less likely to vote for a candidate who ends solar savings,” the poll found.
The ongoing survey asked if respondents agreed with the following statement: “Solar energy is finally succeeding in Arizona because solar customers are allowed to sell the extra energy their solar panels generate back to the utility company. In other words if we are forced to buy power from Arizona Public Service for a certain price, Arizona Public Service should have to buy excess power created by solar panels for that same price. This is a good policy that exists in 43 other states and it should not be ended by the Arizona Corporation Commission.”
When asked in March, the survey found that 83 percent of respondents agreed with the statement. In August, that swelled to 88 percent who agreed. Even after the recent campaigns against net-metering, 81 percent still agreed with the statement.
It’s been an ugly battle this year with solar advocates accusing APS of engaging in dirty tactics, including paying into national conservative non-profits like 60 Plus to fight against net-metering. More recent allegations have occurred with former ACC Commissioner Sandra Kennedy alleging that the APS could have bought off the vote of ACC Commission Gary Pierce. How the ACC rules in the next few days could set the precedent for other states and utilities and foreshadow whether regulators will side with solar installers or utility companies.