Arizona Fights for Its Solar Energy Rights

Arizona Public Service (APS) recently proposed a drastic overhaul of net energy metering (NEM) policy in areas where it operates. APS’s plan, submitted in July to the state’s utility regulatory body — the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) would replace consumer-friendly NEM practices with terms — and economics — more favorable to the monopoly electricity provider.  

APS’s proposal, if approved by a majority of the five-member ACC, would mean “doomsday” for rooftop solar in Arizona.

APS has put forth two options to replace NEM policy. The first is to add a charge of $50-$100 or more to solar homeowners’ bills for the ‘use of the grid.’ The second option is to credit solar homeowners at the wholesale rate, ignoring the fact that clean, local energy is worth more than fossil fuel-generated energy being transported hundreds of miles. Currently, wholesale value is a third to a quarter of retail. Both options would eliminate any financial benefits for homeowners, especially those in the working or middle classes, who want to control costs with rooftop solar.   

The fate of rooftop solar, and the affordable, clean energy choice it represents, lies in the balance of the regulatory showdown unfolding in the Southwestern desert.  APS-backed ‘astroturf’ (fake grassroots movements) front groups 60 Plus and Prosper HQ, have launched ads that attack average Arizonans who are trying to make good fiscal choices through solar. Using outdated scare tactics and financial figures that have been publicly denounced, the groups appear to be blatantly lying to the public (and driving people crazy through overplaying their ads on YouTube).

The solar advocacy group Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), headed by Republican figure Barry Goldwater Jr., has launched an ad of its own (below) in the past week. The ad features honest-to-goodness rooftop solar customers and a rooftop solar worker, all APS ratepayers, who oppose the proposed changes to NEM policy. They assert that the proposal is a slap in the face to APS’ own customers.

Other Arizona NGO and civic groups are getting involved and applying pressure directly to the ACC to keep NEM as is. From senior citizens on fixed incomes to families trying to save for their children’s education, protecting NEM seems to have significant popular support in AZ.

An online petition sponsored by CREDO has generated upwards of 12,000 signatures. At last count, the number of pro-rooftop-solar letters to the ACC totaled 1,630, in contrast to only 327 in support of APS’ proposal, a ratio of nearly 5 to 1 in support of existing NEM policy.

One homeowner says, “I had a solar system installed over a year ago and it has been a great benefit to me. APS, even more, benefits from the electricity that I produce. It does not cost them anything to produce the electricity; I even pay for the repairs that are needed. Why should I be penalized from going solar? This will only deter people from purchasing solar and eliminate jobs in the growing solar market in Arizona.”

Arizona ratepayers are urged to stand up for their right to energy choice and stable electric costs. They can do this by writing to the ACC commissioners in support of net energy metering, and joining nearly 15,000 of their neighbors in standing up for energy freedom through the growth of rooftop solar.  

In Case You Didn’t Know

Current NEM policy credits solar homeowners at a full retail rate for the energy they send back to the grid when panels produce more than a solar home consumes. Receiving full credit for excess rooftop solar generation helps Arizona residents stabilize their utility costs. When combined with a rooftop solar lease, retail NEM facilitates more affordable energy choices for tens of thousands of working and middle class AZ homeowners.

Individuals save money with rooftop solar, and all APS ratepayers save too. Rooftop solar has broad collective economic benefits:

  • Local energy: Power produced on solar rooftops stays local, it doesn’t travel far like utility-scale electricity. Local electricity distribution from solar reduces use and congestion of the transmission and distribution system — saving APS and all APS customers money through reduced need for grid maintenance
  • Energy at the Right Time: Solar produces electricity during the time of day when it is most expensive for APS to purchase it — saving APS and all APS customers money
  • Job Creation: Rooftop solar generated jobs even during the Great Recession. There are currently 10,000 rooftop solar jobs in AZ.     

Ignoring the benefits of rooftop solar for all of its customers, APS sees it only as a threat to its bottom-line.

Lead image: Arizona flag via Shutterstock

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Keally DeWitt is Manager of Public Policy at Sunrun with expertise in communications and campaign organizing. Previously, she ran consumer marketing at the largest integrator of renewable energy in the Northeast, Alteris Renewables, lectured on public speaking and environmental communication at a leading public university, and headed up Sunrun's B2B marketing efforts. She has a degree with honors from Brown University in Environmental Studies and graduated summa cum laude from one of the country's top rhetoric & communication master's programs at the University of Cincinnati.

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