Arizona regulators throw shade on solar

After a year of deliberation about the value of rooftop solar energy, Arizona regulators voted 4–1 last week to substantially curtail the credits that solar customers receive for providing solar power. The Arizona Corporation Commission’s (ACC) decision slashed net-metering, which has played a major role in the expansion of rooftop solar in Arizona and nationwide.

The ACC’s decision on the Value of Solar docket will have major implications on rate cases currently being considered at the ACC for the state’s two largest investor owned utilities, Arizona Public Service (APS) and Tucson Electric Power (TEP).

In our latest “Lighting the Way” report, Arizona ranked fourth in solar capacity per capita. The commission’s decision to gut net metering, failing to account for the full economic and environmental benefits of solar, threatens Arizona homeowners’ and businesses’ ability to lead a clean energy revolution in one of the world’s sunniest places.

Strong net metering policies have been among the main drivers of solar’s dramatic expansion nationwide — and it’s not hard to see why. Among other reasons, net metering is conceptually simple, allowing customers to essentially run their electricity meter backwards, it’s easy to administer, and makes solar energy accessible and affordable to low and middle-class Americans who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Despite the fact that net metering is popular and has been shown to be a ‘net benefit’ to all electricity customers, three investor-owned Arizona utilities have been fighting tooth and nail against it. Over the past two years, APS, TEP, and UNS Electric have filed proposals to raise rates on residential solar customers and eliminate net metering. APS in particular has admitted to funneling money through nonprofit groups to fund anti-net metering advertising. What’s more, they have even been accused of funding dark money political campaigns to elect members of the Arizona Corporation Commission (who made the decision on this case), as well as having improperly close relationships with current and former members.

Protesters rallying in support of solar in Phoenix, AZ.

This situation is not unique to Arizona. As solar has taken off across the country, electric utilities, fossil fuel interests and powerful industry front groups have responded by chipping away at pro-solar policies. Ultimately, distributed rooftop solar represents a threat to their bottom line and way of doing business. And because solar energy is almost universally popular among Americans — 79 percent of Americans believe we should be putting “more emphasis” on solar energy — these groups and utilities have often resorted to deceptive tactics.

In most states, these kinds of attacks on net-metering have failed, and the facts and public support for solar has prevailed. Nonetheless, Arizona joins Nevada and Hawaii as states that have eliminated or eviscerated retail rate net metering. Nevada represents a worst-case scenario situation which Arizona should be wary of, when its solar industry was stopped in his tracks after regulators eliminated net metering at the end of 2015. And while the Nevada Public Utilities Commission just recently restored net metering for less than 2,000 customers, it’s not clear whether that will be enough to revive it.

We’ll need to be vigilant in our efforts to stop these solar rollbacks. That’s why we launched our Stand up for Solar Campaign, fighting back against attacks on solar across the country. Stay tuned for how you can get involved, and we can make sure that solar continues to shine.

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