Home Solar in Arizona Takes Hit After Vote by Corporation Commission to Add Surcharge
Standing close to APS' corner in the battle, the Residential Utility Consumer Office, established by the State Legislature in 1983 to represent the interests of utility customers, pushed the commission to adopt some kind of change for solar users that could offset costs for non-solar-using customers. RUCO analysts said they believed the cost shift for non-solar users might be as high as $20-50 a month due to solar customers.
Image: solarcity.com Happy customers pictured on SolarCity's website
Yet it was RUCO that hammered out the compromise deal along with the Alliance for Solar Choice, represented by former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman.
The 70-cent deal was much lower than what was sought by APS, which has stated the cost shift is more like $83 per month on non-solar customers for every new home-solar customer added to the grid. (Spread out over all 1.1 million customers, the per-customer cost isn't too onerous, yet.)
Bryan Miller of SunRun previously called the APS estimate "made-up math."
The actual number, or even whether it's a positive or negative number, isn't known by anybody due to the complexity of the question. The commission members said they wanted to see both sides get together in workshops to try to settle the question next year.
Commissioner Bob Burns said he believed the current cost shift to non-solar customers was the "tip of the iceberg" compared to what's to come as rooftop solar grows in popularity.
Thursday's vote doesn't mean the battle is over -- it's just beginning. The commission and RUCO expect to monitor rooftop sales closely in the coming months and years to monitor how large the estimated cost shift gets.
The ironic part for solar companies is that the more units they install in Arizona, the more likely their customers will be zapped by increasing fees that tend to erase the savings from solar. That will lead to rejection of solar units by potential customers, or at the least, reduced enthusiasm for the projects.
Ultimately, though, everyone seems to acknowledge the utility model of the past will not work with the home-generation technologies of the future. As our feature article pointed out, a paper by the pro-utility group Edison Electric Institute states that investors in utility companies are unlikely to stay invested in a sinking ship. Tampering with net metering and forcing solar users to pay more is one way to slow down or halt the problem, the paper said.
Yet future technology may allow a significant number of people to unhook from the grid entirely, at a reasonable expense. That, in turn, would upset utilities' ability to provide the same continuous and ultra-reliable, 24/7 electrical power that Americans demand.
For now, though, residential solar companies and their customers must continue to make deals with the devil, a.k.a. the utility, which they cannot do without.
Yesterday's vote by the Corporation Commission sets a pro-utility precedent for Arizona and the rest of the country that's poised to affect solar sales in the near future.
Click on the next page if you want to read a statement put out at 1 p.m. today by RUCO regarding yesterday's vote: