Back in 2015, SolarCity sued Salt River Power, a Phoenix area utility company, claiming its tariff structure unfairly penalized those who installed rooftop solar systems on their homes and businesses. SRP moved to dismiss on the grounds that it was immune from suit because it “is a local government entity carrying out Arizona’s ‘clearly articulated’ policy of displacing competition in the retail electricity market,” according to a report in E&E News.
SRP lost that argument in court, but appealed to the US Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments in the case in two weeks. The issue is whether SRP can prosecute an appeal to the Supreme Court at this stage of the proceedings. A similar question could well be presented to the court in the suit against the federal government brought by Our Children’s Trust and 21 young defendants, now that the Ninth Circuit has denied a government appeal and remanded that case to the trial court for a hearing on the merits.
Law suits often get resolved on the courthouse steps, as both sides have something to lose if the court rules against them. That’s exactly what has occurred in this case, as both companies have announced a resolution to their legal affray they are comfortable with. SRP has agreed to purchase a grid-scale battery storage unit from Tesla and offer customers incentives for home energy storage systems. The 25 megawatt battery storage system will be installed at the company’s Agua Fria Generating Station in Glendale, Arizona, and is scheduled to be online by 2021.
“Tesla and SRP look forward to finalizing their agreement,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Both companies remain committed to providing value for their respective customers and providing renewable energy in Arizona. The business relationship with Tesla gives SRP the ability to work with and learn from a company whose experience and advancements with battery storage is well known.”
The parameters of the agreement are modest in scope. SRP will offer as many as 4,500 of its residential customers an incentive of up to $1,800 to install qualifying energy storage systems, of which 25 will be Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries. The utility in turn will study how battery storage can enhance residential rooftop solar and share data from its home incentive program with Tesla. The goal is to use the program as a foundation for the widespread adoption of residential rooftop solar and storage systems.
Solar advocacy groups have panned the agreement. Jean Su, associate director at the Center for Biological Diversity e-mailed this statement to E&E News: “This settlement doesn’t address the heart of the problem. While it may be a positive step for battery storage, it fails to prevent utilities like the Salt River Project from continuing to set unfair rates for customers who want to embrace rooftop solar. In our era of runaway climate change, we can’t allow outdated utility monopolies to prop up their bottom line by restricting access to renewable power and obstructing our clean energy transition.”
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