By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Arizona utility regulatorson Wednesday began considering the fate of a little-known solarsubsidy that, if altered, would be a major blow to theburgeoning U.S. rooftop solar industry in one of its biggestmarkets.
The outcome of the long-awaited two-day hearing is beingclosely watched by utility and solar players far beyond theGrand Canyon State. In Arizona and elsewhere, the two industriesare increasingly at odds over a policy known as net metering,which allows homeowners with rooftop solar systems to sell thepower they don’t use back to their utilities at retail rates.
Arizona became the nation’s top battleground over netmetering when its biggest utility, Arizona Public Service,earlier this year sought approval from regulators to either adda charge to solar customers’ bills or to lower the price atwhich it will buy the excess power their panels generate.
The utility argued that the dramatic growth of residentialrooftop solar in its service territory – systems are being addedat a rate of about 500 a month – has shifted $18 million inannual costs to non-solar customers.
If the Arizona Corporation Commission adopts either of APS’sproposals, companies like SolarCity Corp, Sunrun andothers who finance or install residential solar systems couldsee the critical part of their sales pitch – monthly paymentsthat are lower than their utility bills – erode significantly.
That would be a big setback to solar businesses in Arizona,which was the No. 2 state for photovoltaic solar installationsin the second quarter of this year. The state’s solar industryemploys about 10,000 people.
The hearing in Phoenix kicked off with a morning oftestimony from members of the public, most of whom said theywere solar system owners and against the APS proposals. Thechief executive of SolarCity, the nation’s top solar panelinstaller, also made an appeal to the five-member panel.
“The truth is APS is afraid of the competition and doesn’twant to give consumers the control,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rivesaid.
The Commission members, who are elected officials, areexpected to vote on the issue on Thursday.
Challenges to net metering have cropped up in several statesin recent years, but it has yet to be rolled back in any of the43 states with such policies. Utilities have argued that solarcustomers in states with net metering policies enjoy thebenefits of being connected to the electric grid withoutshouldering the costs to maintain it. They argue that as morehomeowners go solar, those costs will be spread out over fewerand fewer utility customers.
The solar industry, meanwhile, says net metering is criticalto making solar affordable and underpinning the whopping 76percent growth rate in U.S. solar installations last year.
In Arizona, the two sides in the last few months have wagedhigh-profile ad campaigns to win over the public.
APS’s parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp,said earlier this month it had spent $3.7 million on lobbyingefforts tied to the net metering issue in Arizona.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), whose members includeSolarCity, Sunrun, Sungevity, Solar Universe, Verengo Solar andREC Solar, had spent more than $335,000 as of Oct. 31 andplanned to spend an additional $100,000.
Arizona Corporation Commission staff have recommended theCommission take no immediate action on net metering and insteadevaluate the issue during APS’s next rate case in 2015.
- Nature Environment
- Arizona Corporation Commission
- solar system