Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility is trying to gut its support of net-metering, and recently they got a boost from two swift-boat style attack ads, which may or may not be tied to the company itself. But the whole thing is being watched by the solar and utility industry to see how it plays out and whether or not the ads and APS are successful in the latest attack on net metering.
One attack was by the 60 Plus Association, which calls itself a non-partisan senior group and says, “60 Plus is often viewed as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons.” The other came from newly formed Prosper, which seems to have formed purely to fight net-metering in Arizona. Prosper is headed by former Arizona House Leader Kirk Adams (R), who also heads Americans for Responsible Leadership, which is under investigation for funneling money.
At the heart of the issue is a new filing with the Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC) that APS that would offer homeowners two options for solar on their roofs, a bill credit or a net-metering option. Both options are likely to reduce the amount of incentives for solar. For instance, Greentech Media reports that in a conference call before the filing, APS CEO Chuck Miessner said the current net-metering rate averages 15 cents to 16 cents per kilowatt hour.
Under the new proposals it would be significantly less, between 6 cents and 10 cents per kilowatt hour, with net metering. Net-metered customers would also have to pay a grid-use fee. The other option would reduce energy bill savings from 50 percent to between 30 percent and 40 percent.
The ads come at a fortuitous time for the utility, just like a campaign ad in a political race. And perhaps there’s a reason for that. DC London Founder Sean Nobel, a consultant for APS parent, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, is also a consultant for 60 Plus. Nobel formerly ran Adam’s failed congressional campaign.
The ads vociferously attack Arizona’s current net metering policy; one says its benefits out-of-state billionaires, while the other argues that net metering only benefits those with solar. The 60 Plus ad contends: “Connected companies getting corporate welfare. Now California’s new Solyndras, SunRun and SolarCity, are getting rich off hard-working Arizonans.” Then it attempts to attach that claim to “out-of-state billionaires using your hard-earned dollars to subsidize their wealthy customers. It’s not right. We don’t need this California style corporate welfare in Arizona.”
This ad ignores the fact that those companies and their offerings are creating thousands of jobs in the nation’s sunniest state. And advocates for solar, among them, TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed), chaired by Barry Goldwater, Jr., are fighting back. “I don’t know if they’re referring to Elon Musk and don’t know where he lives, but he is a very successful individual based on SolarCity, Tesla and Paypal,” says Jason Rose, a spokesperson for TUSK, who also identifies as a Republican. “We’ll wear that as a badge of honor.” He adds that criticizing his success is “hypocritical and sickening” because it’s an affront to the U.S.’s entrepreneurial spirit and conservative ideology.
Meanwhile the newer Prosper ad targets net-metering by saying homeowners with solar are paid 5 times the market rate for the power they produce and return to the grid. The ad states that others pay $20,000 for those with solar, but then lacks an explaination. However, it doesn’t account for the avoided costs of new transmission lines and large generation systems (helping to keep pressure on electric pricing down), cleaner air—which leads to better health and lower health care costs.
APS has sidestepped responsibility for the commercials, telling the Phoenix New Times that it didn’t pay for the ads and doesn’t contribute to 60 Plus. But the spokesperson was unable to confirm whether or not Pinnacle contributed to the organization or paid for the ad. Nobel has reportedly failed to respond to requests for comment. Then again, according to Yellow Sheet Report, Adams’ organization is under investigation by a grand jury for funneling money through Nobel and nonprofits to political campaigns in California, as it may have done in Arizona as well.
Rose hasn’t seen this level of attack on the solar industry in Arizona before. “It’s of course being orchestrated by the utility. No matter what day it is, it’s a vicious attack on solar out of both sides of their mouth,” he says. “They talk about how much they love solar. On the other side of the mouth they’re blowing kisses at these shady third-party groups.”
Still, Rose is hopeful the ACC won’t accept the APS proposal. “A regulatory body should not act to protect a monopoly from innovative competition,” he says.