Arizona Public Service has offered to withdraw its request to increase the grid-access charge for residential solar customers, claiming that opponents have turned the issue into “political theater.”
In a filing submitted on Friday, APS said it would drop its proposed fee increase if regulators move forward instead with hearings on the cost of providing electricity service, in order to determine future rates that are fair to all customers.
If the Arizona Corporation Commission accepts the APS recommendation, regulators would launch an investigation into the value of solar that would establish 1) the actual costs for APS to serve rooftop solar customers and 2) the amount those customers pay for continued reliance on the grid. The utility asked for the ACC to reach a decision by March 2016 so the results could be incorporated in the next APS rate case.
In April, APS requested to increase fees on solar customers from 70 cents per kilowatt, or roughly $5 per month, to $3 per kilowatt, or roughly $21 per month. The utility contends that solar customers are currently underpaying for their use of the power grid, which shifts costs to non-solar customers.
Rooftop solar advocates argue that the fees are designed to harm the industry, which has been growing feverishly in recent years, leading to lower electricity sales for utilities.
Since APS proposed the $21 fee, several conflict-of-interest complaints have been filed against Arizona commissioners. The utility is believed to have spent as much as $3.2 million in last year’s ACC election to help its favored candidates win office. Three commissioners have been asked to recuse themselves from a decision on the solar charges, because of their ties to APS.
APS said these complaints were filed to disrupt the regulatory process and prevent the ACC from considering serious-minded rate design.
“Unfortunately, what should have been a relatively simple decision-making process has been turned into political theater by attacks and distortions from rooftop solar leasing companies that seek to paralyze Arizona regulators,” APS said in a statement.
“We hope our proposal will provide an alternative for the ACC to move forward with a much-needed discussion about how to update electricity pricing to reflect energy innovations like rooftop solar, battery storage and home energy management systems,” the statement read.
Research groups have conducted several studies attempting to assess the value of solar. Some studies find that solar creates a cost shift, while others show that grid-tied solar produces a net benefit to all ratepayers.