Solar Energy

Don't Change Net Metering Policy for Solar Customers -- Yet, ACC Staff Recommends

Staff members at the Arizona Corporation Commission have recommended against paying rooftop solar customers less for their electricity.

In a filing last night, staff members acknowledged the position by Arizona Public Service that adding more rooftop-solar customers to the grid eventually raises electric bills for the non-solar customers.

But the ACC shouldn't try a "patchwork" approach at fixing the problem, and instead should way for until 2016 for a formal rate hearing, staff members said.

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

The five-member ACC will make the final decision about whether to follow APS' wishes and essentially raise rates on residential customers with rooftop solar. But the staff recommendation, based on months of research, carries a lot of weight.

Net metering, as the process of paying solar customers for their electricity is called, was mandated in 2008 by the ACC to boost solar-power sales.

As New Times detailed in a July feature article, officials at APS claim that a new scheme is needed to protect non-solar customers. Our article reached the same conclusions as APS -- that a runaway subsidy effect could result from too many rooftop-solar customers. However, as the article also pointed out, APS' motivation stems from general fears by utility companies that rooftop solar could destroy their future profit-making potential.

If the corporation commissioners still want to tackle net metering directly this year, they could effect small increases to the bills of solar users, the filing states.

Today's announcement doesn't end the war, but the war between solar companies and utilities -- well-represented in TV commercials you've probably seen -- seems destined to continue into the next few years.

But the solar firms and their local campaign, TUSK, have won an important battle.

Former Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. and PR rep Jason Rose, the two front-men of TUSK, have repeatedly said that a large increase to the bills of solar users would kill the home-solar industry.

With this filing by ACC staff, assuming the five-member panel agrees, solar firms can focus on installing more solar, making money, and preparing for the next big battle over net metering.

Click here for APS statement on the filing.

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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.