Another Prominent Republican Fighting Utility Monopoly For Rooftop Solar Power Rights

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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?

Photo Credit: crume / Foter / CC BY

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12 thoughts on “Another Prominent Republican Fighting Utility Monopoly For Rooftop Solar Power Rights

  • The battles in Georgia and Arizona are easy to follow because they have stuck to the old model of one vertically-integrated monopoly utility. You would expect these conservative states to have adopted the Thatcherite separation of generation and transmisssion, as in Texas. In such a system, the fossil generators (and even wind ones, as in Spain) have the same interest in blocking distributed solar, but less leverage.

    • Republicans in Georgia would, I’m sure rail against ‘big government’ and be all for the free market. Yet, they let their state government work hand in hand with the utility monopoly to keep electricity prices high and keep competitors out of the market.

      They allow the utility to overcharge customers for electricity and use that ill-gotten money to be used to build new nuclear reactors (which will almost certainly drive the cost of electricity even higher).

      It’s so bad in Georgia that even the Tea Party has been working to allow solar on the grid.

  • The utility is cherry picking it’s costs, but hiding the savings from PV. Sure, every homeowner should pay for infrastructure. The utility however should also PAY the PV owner when capitalization costs are reduced, when carbon costs are reduced, and when peak kWh costs are reduced.

    APS is not negotiating in good faith.

    • Completely agree. I am a user of the grid infrastructure during off peak as a consumer. However, during the day, SCE is using my PV investment to feed the grid during high peak power demand. This is a symbiotic relationship that favors the utility by taking expensive energy during the day and replacing it with cheep electricity during the night.

      I see these arguments from the utilities as manipulation of the facts as a means to increase their profits. Residential solars helps the utilities – they are arguing the opposite to gouge PV owners. Don’t let them.

      • I would argue the opposite for residential wind. Because wind generates a lot of power off peak, net metering of wind power would be harmful to the utility industry.

  • Electrical utilities seem to have a broken business model. Renewables and cheap nat gas are chipping away at the value of their existing generating assets, and energy savers like LEDs are causing demand to stagnate or shrink. These guys are the proverbial frightened animal backed into a corner. Rest assured that they are as good at lobbying as anyone, but the deck is stacking up against them in a bad way.

    • But let’s not forget that APS OWNS the current Corporation Commission in AZ. APS gets what they want with no rational examination of facts, policy imperatives, or reality. The Commission just buys the APS stance and rubber stamps it. Thus the deck is stacked AGAINST the rest of the businesses and residents of AZ to enrich APS and gain more contributions to elected Commissioners who run on anti-solar, anti-environmental platforms. A cozy relationship at best.

  • Excellent. I always suspected that the key to putting Renewable energy over the top against attempts to keep it out of a lot of people (distributed) would be the huge numbers of jobs renewable energy generates. All these people have families that talk. The utilities trying to hog this energy source simply will not work because everybody CAN have his own energy harvesting AND save 20% or so on grid energy because it is distributed, not centralized. People of ALL political parties understand this intuitively, if not technically.

    That said, I’m certain large centralized PV farms and wind farms aren’t going away but will grow as well. The main thing is that as more and more people work in Renewables, versus the fossil fuel industry, more and more political power shifts away from fossil fuels. When the huge subsidies fossil fuel gets finally get shifted to Renewable Energy, that will be the end for fossil fuel poisons.

    Senator Sanders’ bill (End Polluter Welfare Act) is a good first step towards that goal. If you are a U.S. citizen, pleas go to his web site and become a citizen sponsor of the bill. Every extra sponsor helps.

    From Senator Sanders’ web site:

    “End Fossil Fuel Welfare, Invest in Sustainable Energy

    Sen. Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, which would save taxpayers more than $113 billion over 10 years by eliminating subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries. Instead of continuing to heap subsidies on the fossil fuel industry, one of the most profitable in history, the senator believes we should invest in clean, sustainable energy. To that end, Sen. Sanders introduced the Ten Million Solar Roofs Act, which has bipartisan support, and has been approved by the Energy Committee. The legislation helps reduce the cost of solar energy for homes and businesses. Sen. Sanders also supports the use of biomass (wood, grasses and other plant products used for fuel), and passed an amendment in the Senate to help communities establish biomass heating cooperatives to expand the market for sustainable biomass heating. He is a strong advocate for sustainable energy tax incentives like the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit which help reduce the cost of wind and solar projects, and makes geothermal heating and cooling more affordable for consumers.”

    • Coal has a political disadvantage in that it is extracted/mined in only limited geographical areas. Coal mining jobs are concentrated. Coal may be able to control their national representatives for their area, but their area is limited.

      Solar is being installed in all 50 states. Every state is going to start feeling the power of the solar industry just as windy states are feeling the political and economic power of wind turbines.

  • Surely the solution for consumers in Arizona is to invest in rooftop + battery storage and cut the cord completely from APS?

    • That’s exactly what the fee will encourage. I have grid connected solar and feel that I’m giving away peak demand power in return for consuming it at the lowest period of off peak demand. The capital investment for my system was not paid by the utility.

  • I am surprised the Fed hadn’t stepped in and tried to break up the power company’s monopolies like they did with JP Morgan, and his comrades while Roosevelt was President.

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