Arizona solar and net energy metering advocates appear to be swaying public opinion in their favor.
Ads attacking solar (see "Fair" at the bottom of the page) began about the same time as the Arizona Public Service (APS) effort to have the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) roll back the net energy metering (NEM) benefit. NEM reduces rooftop solar system owners’ bills at the retail rate for the kilowatt-hours they send to the grid.
APS proposed either allowing new solar system owners to continue being reimbursed in the same way but adding a charge to their bills for their use of the grid, or giving them a bill reduction at a different rate set by the ACC.
After the new video (below) from the group Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK) opposing the APS proposal was posted on Facebook, the daily total reach (the number of people who saw the page’s content) went from 368 on July 26 to 41,331 on July 30.
At CREDO Grassroots Action, an activist website sponsored by wireless phone seller CREDO Mobile, a Stop the Utility Power Grab in Arizona petition stated:
“Under current law, Arizona residents who install rooftop solar panels on their homes are able to receive fair credit for any excess electricity they provide to the power grid -- helping pay off their investment by providing a clean source of energy to their neighbors. But APS is trying to keep its monopoly hold on Arizona’s power supply by dismantling that bill credit arrangement. Their proposal effectively taxes the sun therefore making solar energy a bad investment for Arizonans.”
By 6 p.m. on August 1, the petition had 10,945 signatures calling for the Arizona Corporation Commission “to stand strong to support Arizonans who want to go solar.”
In Sunrun’s count of public statements in the NEM docket at the ACC website, it found 1,158 defending the current NEM benefit and 327 approving of the APS plan to replace it, according to Sunrun Public Policy Manager Keally DeWitt.
“We are writing to ask that you deny the APS proposal for surcharges on solar installed on home roof systems,” read a comment from Dr. and Mrs. Tracy A. Tripp. “The argument they make is both nonsense and unfair. They seem to be looking for additional revenues and stifling the consumer from going green and the Arizona solar industry in the process.”
Net metering is a key component of the third-party ownership (TPO) business model with which Sunrun, SolarCity, Clean Power Finance, NRG Energy, Sungevity, SunEdison, and SunPower have led a boom in distributed solar growth in Arizona and other states over the last two years.
The pro-TPO companies argue net metering should be left in place because there are quantifiably more benefits than costs from adding net metered solar, including reduced stress on the transmission and distribution system and the creation of revenue and jobs in an industry that even boomed in Arizona during the recession.
APS and other utilities object to NEM because when residential solar owners’ bills zero out, they don’t have to pay infrastructure charges that go to maintaining the grid.
“APS is pro-solar,” APS Spokesperson Jim McDonald said of the public response. “Right now, people on net metering aren’t paying for the grid. Of course, people who aren’t might want to keep it that way. But everybody has to share in paying for the grid, and solar customers need to be fairly compensated for the electricity they produce.”
The current NEM-based system is not sustainable, McDonald said, adding, “If it isn’t fixed, it will cripple solar in Arizona. Our proposals can work. Existing customers are grandfathered in so they don’t lose anything. And the upfront incentives we proposed ought to make solar attractive for new customers. TUSK is protecting a business model that cannot be sustained and they know it.”
Rooftop solar has started a “disruption,” according to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), a utility advocacy group, and “there is a large universe of companies pursuing this opportunity.” Ultimately, EEI warned, “all stakeholders must embrace change in technology and business models in order to maintain a viable utility industry.”