Solar Energy

APS Denies Funding Solar-Installer Attack Ad That It Likes

APS isn't funding a campaign by a Virginia conservative group that attacks solar-power installers, a utility spokesman says.

But that doesn't mean the company doesn't appreciate the hard-hitting ad that has generated 145,000 views on YouTube.

"We're happy they support our point of view," says Jim McDonald of APS about the group, the 60 Plus Association.

See also: -An Epic Battle Between Solar Firms and Power Utilities Could Leave One Side Unplugged

In the ad, posted July 2 on YouTube, 60 Plus takes the side of APS in the debate over how to compensate the utility's customers who have solar panels and blasts SolarCity and SunRun as the "new Solyndras."

We covered the debate over the current compensation plan, called net metering, in last week's cover story (see above link).

On Friday, APS filed the anticipated request with the Arizona Corporation Commission to essentially pay less to new customers who install solar panels. The five-member commission -- all Republicans -- is expected to vote on the request this year following public hearings.

As our story explained, solar users are paid -- roughly at retail rates -- by APS for the power they generate. The plan was developed a few years ago as another way to lend support to the fledgling solar-power industry. But the company says solar users reduce their bills so much that they don't pay their fair share of upkeep and maintenance of the power grid.

The increasing number of solar customers means that more grid costs are being shifted to non-solar users, APS says, resulting in higher rates for the rest of the customers. Some believe the the trend could someday result in serious damage to the utility companies' business model.

Companies that install solar-power systems, meanwhile, worry they might go out of business if fewer people will sign up for solar because they aren't paid well enough for the electricity they create.

Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant whose lawyer wife counts solar-power installers among her clients, is the frontman for a small group of Republicans including Barry Goldwater Jr., who's been blasting APS for supposedly lying to the public and being greedy. They say net metering benefits rather than hurts non-solar APS customers.

The utility has fired back with its own rhetoric, most notably in the form of op-ed articles by Don Brandt, the CEO of APS, and other utility representatives.

But Rose's group, TUSK, (for Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed), now charges that APS is using "third parties to do its dirty work."

Sean Noble, a paid lobbyist and consultant for Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, APS' parent company, also works with 60 Plus Association.

Rose's complaints aside, the multiple hats worn by Noble, a GOP political consultant himself, raise a legitimate question of what, if anything, APS had to do with the 60 Plus ad.

APS spokesman McDonald says the utility did not pay for the ad or help produce it in any way; nor does APS donate to 60 Plus.

APS isn't interested in politicizing the issue as Rose has, McDonald says.

"But going forward, we would certainly support organizations that share our position on important customer issues," he says.

McDonald could not confirm, however, whether Noble considered the ad -- if it is indeed Noble's handiwork -- as part of his duties as APS/Pinnacle West consultant and lobbyist. McDonald says he hasn't talked to Noble about it.

Noble did not return calls to Arizona Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo for his Friday article on the subject. Noble also failed to return New Times' calls on Monday.

We're used to people not returning our calls on this issue. As last week's story related, Rose referred our questions about anti-APS material on the Arizona Foothills Magazine's online site to the mag's editor, Michael Dee, who never called us back. We've repeatedly tried to get in touch with Goldwater Jr., but he won't return our calls, either.

APS may not want to politicize the issue, as McDonald says, but it seems to be a political issue regardless, since the corporation commission members are politicians whose ultimate decision on the issue may try to take into account what the public thinks.

Members of TUSK, including Goldwater Jr. and other solar advocates, were expected to hold a news conference this morning at the State Capitol to "stand against the deep-pocketed sneak attacks APS has waged against solar energy," according to a TUSK news release.

Thing is, there are deep pockets on both sides. And solar installers have a clear and acute financial interest in the outcome of the net metering debate.

Electric customers can only hope the outcome of this impending showdown is one that benefits them the most -- in terms of reliability, cost and public health.

UPDATE: APS Didn't Mean to Lie to New Times on Funding of Anti-Solar Ads, Spokesman Says

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.