The fight over Arizona’s solar industry spilled into the streets Wednesday as a group of about 40 retirees protested in front of the headquarters of Arizona Public Service, criticizing the utility for asking state regulators to reduce rooftop solar incentives.
They said APS has been dishonest in its approach to the issue and wants to kill the rooftop solar industry in Arizona to keep control of energy generation and to maintain profit margins.
The protest was organized by Dru Bacon, a former solar energy consultant and resident of the Pebble Creek retirement community in Goodyear. Bacon said he used to work for a rooftop solar installer and consulting firm, but that he now only volunteers as a solar advocate. Bacon said his community has benefited immensely from the incentive that APS wants to reduce.
At issue is a system called net metering, which allows people to reduce their energy consumption and even sell energy back to the utility provider when rooftop solar panels produce more energy than a home needs.
APS has asked the state’s utility regulator, the five-person Arizona Corporation Commission, to cut in half the amount of money individuals would save on their monthly bills using the system.
APS executives say the current system unfairly pushes grid maintenance costs onto non-solar customers and is unsustainable in the long term.
For the retirees who came to protest APS’ proposal, the issue is personal.
Charles Miller, a 65-year-old resident of the Pebble Creek retirement community, has had solar panels on his roof for several years and has enjoyed the net metering system. It saves him money each month, which is important, since he’s on a fixed income.
APS’ proposal would not affect Miller because the proposal would grandfather existing customers’ arrangements into any future reconfiguring of the system. But he said the plan would cripple the industry and prevent his neighbors from enjoying the same savings.
“I’d like to see a middle ground,” Miller said. “I’d like to see something that works for everyone.”
Miller said that if APS wants to make up money being lost on the net metering system, he would be willing to pay a small fee to cover that loss. But he doesn’t think it should come out to as large a cut as the utility proposes.
“I think that if they have some sort of fee, like two or three dollars a month, I could deal with that. But fifty? A hundred? If you lease solar (panels), your first year savings is about $35 a month, with zero down. Would you do it if you had to pay $50 (per month)? No,” Miller said. “So what they’re doing is ending solar in Arizona.”
APS executives say they do not want to “kill solar” or “tax the sun” as the protesters’ signs exclaimed, but that they want to make sure the whole net metering system is sustainable and doesn’t push extra costs onto non-solar customers.
Although it was not included as part of APS’ formal proposal to the Corporation Commission, the utility’s executives have said they would support reinstituting a one-time, up-front cash incentive for installing rooftop solar panels.
Corporation Commission Chairman Bob Stump said the issue will be formally considered by the commission in November.