Arizona Solar Skirmish Foreshadows Bigger Battles

November 17, 2013

Barry Goldwater Jr appears in this web video supporting consumer choice for solar energy in Arizona. It’s not high art, but you get the message. There is a Green Tea Party taking shape in southern and western states, making alliances with green campaigners, and threatening to throw Koch-financed anti-renewable energy campaigns into chaos.

The conflict is that more and more folks are buying solar energy systems. That cuts into big utility revenues – and threatens the business model that has sustained the electric industry for more than a century.  The big Arizona Utility, Arizona Public Service, had proposed a stiff, some would say punitive, charge for solar householders who sell electricity on to the grid. The utility’s point is that even if solar powered homes don’t need as much, or any, power from the grid, they should pay to help support that infrastructure for the larger community, and so that it’s available in times of clouds or darkness.
The booming solar industry wants no impediments to growth. A lot of state regulators are watching this one, and we are a long way from figuring out how this is eventually going to work. But we’d better get started, because, like the internet, solar is now a disruptive technology, and utilities that do not find a way to adapt and adopt will be going away.


Arizona is one of 43 states that requires utilities to buy electricity from household solar systems, potentially cutting into revenue for the company known locally as APS. The regulator’s staff recommended Oct. 1 that the utility’s request be rejected and the issue taken up again at a regularly scheduled hearing in 2015 for rates that would take effect the following year. Some conservatives are siding with the solar industry.

Utilities “don’t like the competition,” said Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the late senator and presidential candidate. “I’m a conservative Republican and I think people should have a choice.”

Arizona Public Service spokeswoman Jenna Shaver declined to comment on growing conservative support for solar energy.
(below, Chris Hayes interviews Debbie Dooley of the Georgia Green Tea Party)

Goldwater founded Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, or TUSK, which calls APS’s proposal a “solar tax” that’s unfair to people who have invested in rooftop solar systems. Tom Morrissey, former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, joined the group as co-chairman in October.

“Utilities have had their heads in the ground for so long they didn’t notice that it’s become cheap enough to compete with them,” he said.

AZ Central reported on the latest status of the net metering debate in Arizona. The state’s utility board attempted to split the baby on this increasingly contentious issue.

“No one goes away completely happy,” Pierce said as he and the other Arizona Corporation Commission members prepared to vote on charging rooftop-solar customers some of the costs of supporting Arizona Public Service’s electric grid.

“They’re happy it’s over.”

The rally outside the Arizona Corporation Commission was attended by hundreds. This photograph was taken before 09:00am, over half an hour before the hearings were scheduled to begin. There were no reports of anti-solar groups attending. Image: TASC.

As is anyone who has been overrun by the campaign-style attacks ads that filled radio, television and the Internet for the past month.

But don’t get too comfortable. This was only the beginning.

The commission landed on a proper compromise, voting 3-2 to charge new rooftop-solar customers 70 cents per kilowatt to support the grid that delivers electricity to them when the sun isn’t shining or carries their excessive power to their neighbors. That works out to about $5 a month for an average installation.

That’s considerably less than the $50 to $100 a month that APS wanted. It’s more than the zero the solar industry lobbied for.

It’s slightly less than the Residential Utility Consumer Office suggested, although it incorporates the office’s suggestion to require regular reviews to consider increasing the surcharge.

The compromise is enough to maintain some balance between solar and non-solar customers, without killing the rooftop industry. It buys time until APS’ next rate case, when the issue can more fully be vetted.

This was just a warmup for what’s to come, a skirmish before the real battle in a couple of years.


Arizona has become the first US state to introduce a charge on rooftop PV users in what America’s solar industry has described as a “precedent-setting” action.

At the end of a two-day hearing over an increasingly contentious issue, the Arizona Corporation Commission voted 3-2 in favour of allowing state utility Arizona Public Service to impose a US$0.70 per kilowatt charge on solar net metering customers.

APS had argued that the charge was necessary to offset the cost the growing number of solar systems passed on to non-solar ratepayers. The utility said that net metering customers, which are able to claim credit on excess power fed back into the grid, effectively shift the cost of maintaining the grid on to ratepayers that do not use solar.

The ACC commissioners narrowly upheld this claim, voting for a charge that will be imposed on all new systems built after 31 December this year. The fee is expected to hit solar users to the tune of around US$5 per month.

But APS’s immediate response to the commission’s decision was to claim that it did not go far enough.

“Having determined that a problem exists, we would have preferred for the ACC to fix it,” said Don Brandt, chairman and chief executive of APS. “The proposal adopted by the ACC…falls well short of protecting the interests of the one million residential customers who do not have solar panels. We will continue to advocate forcefully for the best interests of our customers and for a sustainable solar policy for Arizona.”

Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said he was “deeply troubled” by the “precedent-setting action”, implying that the decision will have attracted the interest of utilities and ratepayers beyond Arizona.

“Imposing punitive fees on Arizona consumers – without first proving the need and demonstrating the fairness of these charges through a comprehensive, transparent rate case where due process is afforded – is patently unfair, jeopardising future solar growth and job creation statewide,” Resch said.

Will Greene, the Arizona representative of environmental body the Sierra Club, said the move would “stifle” the growth of solar in the state.

“We acknowledge APS originally proposed a much-larger charge, but our state’s burgeoning private solar industry will still need to overcome this new challenge. Rooftop solar brings important energy savings to working families and it gives us the freedom to be more energy independent.”

Arizona has become the biggest battleground over the solar net metering issue in the US, with APSrevealed to have been secretively funding an anti-solar lobbying campaign.

The issue has also polarised public opinion. At the start of the ACC hearing on Wednesday, an estimated 1,000 pro-solar campaigners turned out to protest against the charges proposed by APS.

43 Responses to “Arizona Solar Skirmish Foreshadows Bigger Battles”

  1. adelady Says:

    Eventually the grid is going to have to take on the same infrastructure type pricing that applies to water, stormwater and sewage facilities here in South Australia. There’s a cost that must be borne for initial installation and that infrastructure has to be maintained. Even if you use less than half the amount of water that similar households use, you still need the same pipes and reservoirs and water processing to get any water at all. Stormwater management is included in council rates. As it happens, we do the same for power and gas. A flat quarterly fee for the connection, plus variable costs for use during specified periods. Phone and internet access and services are also familiar to most people.

    Personally I think the best analogy for solar power grid connections would be stormwater management costs. You have to instal and maintain capacity to manage excess flows in the worst the weather can throw at you in your area. Day to day, month to ordinary month, routine management of the system is much easier and maintenance is less costly if a predictable portion of regular rainfall is buffered or interrupted by rainwater storages at houses and business premises and by strategically placed rain “gardens” and porous surfaces.

    Companies, customers and local authorities just have to get their heads around the fact that grid maintenance costs that have previously been absorbed as overheads, and not specified on accounts, are going to have to be explicitly calculated and shown as a separate line item on power bills … for everyone connected to the grid, not just the solar owners.

  2. Like all things US, conditions vary state to state. If you want power here, you will have to,pay for initial installation. The farther from existing lines, the more you pay. It costs a lot if the distance is even a quarter mile. So much, that it is lucrative to sell wind systems to those mot close enough to power. Right now, the extra capacity to feed variable demand is paid for from higher peak demand rates. I don’t know what is the best way, but peak demand unfairly charges the most energy conserving users higher next year rates to increase the grid for those using the most energy. As you say, everyone pays wether you use it or not. However a balance must be achieved that rewards the best practices.

  3. […] A split is opening up between the lockstep Koch-sniffing wing of conservatism, and heretical conservative renewable energy activists, who include among their numbers several leading Tea Party activists, and in Arizona, none other than Barry Goldwater Jr. See this TV ad from the recent Arizona dust up. […]

  4. Well I live in AZ and there are important factors being left out of this conversation. To begin:

    The utility companies (APS) were the ones who set up the rules for putting energy back into the grid. For decades upon decades they knew that the consumer had no chance whatsoever getting ahead. This situation changes as Solar hits the scene so now the same folks who have been charging exorbitant rates want to change the rules so that once again the general populace is at a disadvantage. What ever happened to abiding by the rules, especially since you made them, or does APS believe in the rules only as long as it is advantageous to them?

    Solar installations have helped many people get away from energy sources, such as coal (here in AZ) and nuclear which APS doesn’t maintain with any degree of certainty. Ask the people in Phoenix that remain at less than full power from a nuclear plant incident more than 3 years ago. If APS actually maintained their delivery system it would have a lot more merit but they do not. Where I live we can count on service outages which last anywhere from 5-6 hours to a day or to. That may not seem like a lot to some people but when the temperatures are in excess of 115 degrees Fahrenheit it is dangerous. Typically these outages result from a system that hasn’t been upgraded to match the demand.

    When a person pays his monthly bill it is absolutely over weighted with Federal, State and municipal taxes in addition to transmission and delivery fees that almost double what the electric generation fees are on the bill as it stands right now. The electric usage is minimal in the winter due to moderate temperatures but none of the fees change at all. A fee for reading the meter is also there every month despite the fact that no one actually reads the meter every month. They put in new meters a few years ago that allow APS to drive up and down the street with an electronic reading mechanism. Although their costs went down none of that was passed on to customers. It makes it appear greedy to put it lightly or gouging to put it not so politely.

    Finally the installation inequities are enormous. In a state which has a very high percentage of retirees, non income tax paying population, their is no Federal or State credit to them. Between the Federal and State tax credits an income tax paying person can have from 80-90% of the installation cost paid for by these credits spread out over 20 years. Anyone who has income less than what would be required to pay income tax gets no help at all. In other words if you are a low wage earner, retiree or not able for other reasons to pay taxes you are penalized by an average installation cost of approximately $20,000.00 + USD. It is discrimination against minorities and elderly people in the worst way and it exists to benefit those people that can afford to pay but do not.

    There is no equity whatsoever and that is why the main protestors are conservative Republican people. For the entire time of its existence APS has charged everyone high energy producing fees due to coal burning plants being expensive, more additional fees that while they are explained are not easily understood by the people and levels of profit margin make them appear as anything but a “public” utility. In a single word, GREED.

  5. […] cheesy, represents a number of conservatives who are finally getting it about renewable energy. In Arizona, the figurehead for the movement is none other than Barry Goldwater Jr. […]

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