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.