APS backs down from battle for new solar fees

APS retreats from battle against rooftop solar

Arizona’s largest utility company has withdrawn its request for the state’s regulators to consider substantial new fees for solar customers.

The withdrawal – or rather the delay – comes on the heels of dramatic political battles and accusations of bias among the Arizona Corporations Commissioners.

Arizona Public Service, the utility company, proposed a new fee that would add $21 to the average monthly bill of its customers with rooftop solar installations. The commission approved a $5 fee in late 2013. This new proposal was meant to be a rematch that would have wrapped up just in time for the commission to begin hearing the utility’s rate case. The rate case is expected to include another proposed connection fee for solar customers and to take another year of hearing to decide.

The state’s rooftop solar industry reacted strongly to the proposal, saying it would create an atmosphere of uncertainty that would last two to three years and would stifle the state’s strong new solar economy.

The solar industry struck hard, arguing that the commission should not be hearing arguments for a new fee outside of the utility’s rate case, which isn’t to be presented until 2016. That argument was substantiated by staff recommendations, which were overruled in August when the commissioners agreed to hear the arguments and come to a decision anyway.

In addition, the state’s supreme court already ruled that a recent rate increase for water customers was unconstitutional because it was decided outside of the rate case.

Solar advocates, led by The Alliance for Solar Choice, accused three commissioners of voting to allow the case anyway because of bias. Tom Forese and Doug Little are the newest members of the commission. They were elected in 2014 with help from $3.2 million in campaign funds from independent political groups believed to be funded with dark money from APS.

Additionally, commissioner Bob Stump has expressed his opinion on social media that net metering, which credits solar customers at the retail rate for the power they feed onto the grid, is a subsidy. That’s a stance that solar advocates say prove the commissioner is biased against rooftop solar.

APS withdrew its request last week for the commission to consider new fees for solar customers as long as the commissioners agreed to move forward with hearings to determine whether or not non-solar customers are in-fact subsidizing those with rooftop solar installations. While the new fee is off the table for now, APS is expected to include hefty new fees for solar customers in its next rate case.