More Conservatives Break Ranks to Fight for Solar: Obsolete Grid Not Ready for Solar Revolution

August 21, 2013

I’ll keep hammering on this. There is a train wreck coming in the utility industry, if we do not find the right regulatory structure to allow solar photovoltaics to grow harmoniously as part of the electrical mix. The moment of grid parity is here for sunny states like Arizona, and coming soon even in northern, cloudy areas like the midwest.  We can watch Arizona for lessons on how this will play out – and right now we are seeing the conservative movement fracture alone strange lines as the impulse toward taking control of power production spreads among electrical customers.

Formerly reliable foot-soldiers in the Tea Party/anti-renewable movement are bolting away from Koch funded astro turf groups, in favor of the greater economic freedom,  a more secure power supply, and ultimately, the more stable grid offered by renewables.


Here’s yet another case of a prominent Republican politician joining in the fight for rooftop solar power, this time in the highly contentious and important solar battleground of Arizona. Thanks to Lucy Mason for providing us with this article.

By Former State Representative Lucy Mason

Arizona Public Service has been granted monopoly status to provide power in certain parts of Arizona. It’s also a publicly traded company and has a fiduciary obligation to maximize profits for shareholders. This may lead the company to pursue policies that are in its interests but not those of its ratepayers.

This dynamic is on clear display as APS now works on their response to the impacts created by the Arizona rooftop solar market. By its own admission, its customers’ adoption of rooftop solar is eating into its profits, and potentially its stock price.

As the public is exposed to a debate between APS and solar advocates, some historical perspective might be helpful.

While serving as a Republican in the Arizona State Legislature I believed that in the 21st Century Arizona’s economic future would benefit by harnessing its greatest natural resource – the sun – to become a national leader in the solar market. But APS nearly always opposed efforts to allow a vibrant solar industry because, the more energy efficient customers become, the harder it is for APS to reach its profit. The utility portrays itself as pro-solar because solar has broad public support. Nevertheless, they have only carried out projects required of them by law.

Their latest proposal that would undermine rooftop solar in Arizona would undoubtedly be detrimental to the livelihoods of the 10,000 individuals employed by the Arizona solar industry. So, a growing economically viable industry in Arizona is at risk, at a time when Arizona is trying to rebuild its economy and create healthy business competition. The key word here is “competition.”

One option in APS’ proposal is the equivalent of a monthly tax/fee on solar customers. Initial indications are that this tax/fee would be $50-$100 or more for each solar customer.

Another option would offer solar homeowners a quarter of the current credit they receive, while APS would then sell that solar electricity that they did not create, for a profit.

So far, APS proposals will eliminate the entire reason that retirees and families go solar, which is to take control over one’s energy consumption and plan wisely for their families’ future.

The solar industry is not asking for a new tax on Arizonans, just appropriate compensation from APS for rooftop generated solar energy.

APS’ most persuasive point is that it should be compensated something for use of its power lines to transport new solar power. But let’s recall my original point. The state has granted them monopoly status and a guaranteed 10-percent profit. For that extraordinary right shouldn’t we ask for something in return, like allowing rooftop solar to grow in Arizona? And what is magical about 10 percent? Readers should ask, if the return were changed to something slightly less wouldn’t this entire debate be gone?

APS is also now fighting attempts to create a more deregulated market. I have some sympathy for this position. But if we didn’t have deregulation, shouldn’t we have some competition in Arizona via rooftop solar?

I am all for a win-win solution, in which APS and solar companies reach an agreement. But if APS insists on a win-lose as is currently proposed, their proposal must be rejected. As the nation turns its eyes to Arizona and how this debate will impact solar around the country, can we really believe that perhaps the sunniest state in America would be the one to eclipse the savings, promise, and choice of solar.


A curious thing happened in Georgia this month.

As the state’s public service commission was considering a proposal for 525 megawatts of solar PV — a program fiercely opposed by Georgia Power — an unlikely alliance formed to support more solar. The Tea Party Patriots and environmental activist groups joined together to encourage passage of the program, which was eventually upheld by regulators.

Alliances like these happen all the time, if the issue suits both parties. But even more interesting was the split between conservative groups on the issue. While the Tea Party Patriots were busy pushing for more solar in Georgia, the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — another Tea Party-aligned group backed by the oft-maligned Koch Brothers — was busy fighting it.

As it has in other states, AFP waged a small war on the solar program, claiming that it would drive up electric rates and destroy Georgia’s economy. But it was a Tea Party Patriots leader who presented the most effective pushback.

“AFP Georgia is putting out absolutely false information. They’re taking data from two years ago, three years ago and saying solar is too expensive,” said Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator with the organization.

The tension is appearing internationally, as the technological revolution is blowing up old business models.  This recent Australian TV news item shows another front down under.

7 Responses to “More Conservatives Break Ranks to Fight for Solar: Obsolete Grid Not Ready for Solar Revolution”

  1. uknowispeaksense Says:

    How cool is this guy’s car?

    Over here on the east coast of Australia the issue of who pays for grid infrastructure is even more pronounced. From June this year, feed-in tarriffs have been reduced to just 8c/kWh from more than $1 in some places with cost being the biggest issue for both the government as well as the providers, both of whom were paying feed in tarriffs.

    What isn’t mentioned though by the providers who often try to lay the blame for financial costs at the feet of solar households is that while they are now only paying 8c /kWh to solar homeowners, they are onselling that power to non-solar households at anywhere between 31c/kWh and 35c/kWh. The generating infrastructure costs for that power of course are borne by homeowners buying and maintaining the systems. I think the generators biggest fear is that they will eventually become obsolete once storage is efficient and affordable, so they are jockeying and lobbying and using rubbery figures to try and maintain a stake and maximise their profits for as long as they can. I personally can’t wait for the day that I can walk around my suburb and not see any power poles.

  2. Nick Carter Says:

    Great to hear from uknowispeaksense! Here In the states on my wish list is to see conversion of our city streetlights to LED. We already have the technology to reduce electric consumption by almost 90% with a return on investment of about 3 years. The lights from one company in Texas are guaranteed to generate their full luminosity for 10 years before there’s any light loss. It may not be relevant directly to solar, but eliminating harsh sodium vapor with these lights would do wonders for lowering power needs. Did I mention that these lights run on DC? Don’t need no inverter for them! 🙂

  3. uknow- That’s right. We should think of the individual households as businesses that provide solar electricity and their right to make a profit on their investment in solar.

    “if the solar displaces energy used by the consumer, it has a double reduction in the utility burden. Both utility transmission and generation are avoided, not just fuel costs. That reduces the amortization costs of both generation and transmission. Then there is the simple market concept of winners and losers.”

    So we have a conflict between two businesses. Naturally, the larger entrenched business will try to use political forces to protect itself against market forces that are obsoleting it. That is not helpful to the economy, however.

    What does it all mean? Traditional forms of centralized power are obsolete. Power companies will transition to other forms as people recognize new opportunities in the challenging landscape. Some will fear the transition, clinging to the past. Nothing new about that.

    As distributed power and local ownership grows, the need for the centralized regulated monopoly will wane. People will want to diversify energy sources. This is healthy. No need to worry about if the centralized utility keeps up. It may be better if it does not and healthier alternatives take its place, particularly if it lags behind. These attempts at maintaining both political and economic monopoly are unhealthy and I doubt they will succeed in the long run, because they cannot resist the forces of change. An uneconomic activity cannot be maintained in the macro economy without severe society wide impacts. (jobs, cost of living, education, quality of life). Even when considering reduced electricity consumption, solar (and wind) has had a huge effect on the utilities. They have mothballed plans for new centralized power plants and shut down coal and nuclear ones. Why is that bad for them? It isn’t if they have seen the future and planned accordingly. It is a problem for utilities that have over invested in capital intensive power plants hoping that ever increasing consumption would justify the high amortization. It has not. So why are we wringing our hands about the winners and losers as a result of this? We should not. They need to respond to the economic forces telling them to shut down costly centralized power and they are.
    The alternative is to reward utilities for uneconomic practices that penalize all of us.

    The situation is akin to the old phone company demanding to keep pay phone boxes despite the advent of cell phones. They are quaint, but not really current or relevant. More like an anachronism.

  4. andrewfez Says:

    Someone won some type of environmental award or something. Congratulations. With the Koch guys staring down at us from Mt. Olympus, communicating the science is just as important as doing the science.

    From the article:

    ‘Peter Sinclair, a long-time advocate of environmental awareness and energy alternatives based in Midland, Mich., has been named the recipient of the Ecology Center’s Herbert L. Munzel Award for Environmental Activism. The award will be presented at the organization’s annual fall dinner Oct. 3 in Ann Arbor, which also will feature a speech by James Hansen, the scientist credited with raising early alarms about global warming….’

  5. Yay Peter! Thanks andrew.

  6. petersjazz Says:

    You can always discuss the details and whats fair. But overall, its better to subsidies solar than oil and coal

  7. interesting to see this guy charging what looks like lead-acid batteries in the back of his antique electric guy (looks like his own conversion?) – given the problem with solar electricity generated mostly during the day but most households peak usage is early morning/breakfast or dinner/TV time – a nice deal looks like if the daytime solar PVR output can charge your car batteries, then AM or night-time the house could draw from the car battery – of course this does not help driving the car during the day – unless you can drive it to work and park it at another solar charger

    I think there is an opportunity for workplaces to provide their rooftops for solar PVR – I did read somewhere in the US was doing this – local supply companies paying householders or businesses to use their roofspace – install for free, customer gets free or discounted electricity for a period, then after a while ownership may revert – not sure – that looks like a deal electricity generators could get onboard with – we supply/fit on your roof at no cost to you – you get some discount for some period – then everybody’s happy ? Supplier gets to juggle their own numbers about infrastructure and get cheap funding for multi-sites – they still have a large installed base to keep their revenue stream flowing – and customers get cheaper electricity – que ?

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