Solar Energy

Barack Obama's Non-Profit Group Takes Sides in Arizona's Solar-Energy Battle; W/UPDATE

Guess who's coming to the Arizona solar-energy debate?

That's right, it's none other than President Barack Obama, through his non-profit advocacy group Organizing For Action. The OFA recently sent out an email blast and created a web page that encourages people to send a message to the Arizona Corporation Commission demanding "full credit" for solar users.

But is the president squashing efforts by solar-installation companies to portray the ongoing battle over rooftop solar-energy credits in Arizona as non-partisan?

See also: -APS Denies Funding Solar-Installer Attack Ad That It Likes -Battle Between Solar Firms and Power Utilities Could Leave One Side Unplugged

The solar companies' side is represented most prominently in Arizona by PR man Jason Rose and washed-out son-of-an-icon Barry Goldwater Jr. in a quasi-Republican group known as TUSK. As the above-linked feature article explains, they're fighting with Arizona Public Service and like-minded utilities that are bent on preserving their own hides while protecting non-solar customers from a runaway-subsidies effect. You've probably seen the competing ads on TV -- one blames California solar firms for trying to jack up energy prices in Arizona; another accuses APS of attacking its own customers.

The issue turns on how much money is being paid by the utility to solar users for the electricity they create. People with solar panels receive roughly the same rate for their homemade voltage as what they pay APS for the electricity it provides, which solar users still need for most of a 24-hour day. APS says the rates of non-solar customers could skyrocket as solar customers continue to take advantage of a state-mandated payout that's fixed too high.

The utility has presented two plans that raise electric bills for solar users to an amount that, APS says, takes full account of those users' fair share of costs associated with maintaining the energy grid. Solar companies fear that any change to the current payout scheme could result in a massive loss of business. The all-Republican, five-member Corporation Commission is expected to vote on the APS proposals after public hearings planned for this fall. In recent weeks, liberals have bombarded the board's members with messages urging them to support solar power, and sometimes blasting them as polluter-friendly coal-lovers.

Rose said on KAET-TV's Horizon program in April that "frankly, solar has been as a Democratic issue in the past," but that surveys show Republicans support it, too.

While true to some extent, Arizona Republicans aren't likely to love the OFA's linking of the polarizing president to the local debate over net metering.

"Fight for clean energy in Arizona," the web page shouts next to a picture of Obama. "It's simple. We should be rewarding those who invest in clean energy, not making it harder to make the switch."

The site invites people to send their personal information on a web form "to tell the Arizona Corporation Commission to protect full credit for clean energy."

OFA shares all the submitted info with its partner, Vote Solar, a grassroots pro-solar organization that skews left-wing.

Presumably, the data collected from this site -- whether from pro-solar Democrats or Republicans -- will end up flowing into Democratic databases of potential supporters.

UPDATE: APS got back to us with a response:

"Whether it's a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation, the recent mail piece from OFA is simply wrong. APS is a champion of solar power. We aren't trying to make it harder for customers to install solar panels. By recommending an increase in the upfront incentive for homeowners who choose solar, we want to continue the growth of solar power in Arizona in a way that is fair for all customers and sustainable for the long term."

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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.