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Please APS, don’t tax my trees

A tree that gives shade to your home can help reduce your electricity bill. So can solar roof panels. So can, for that matter, unplugging your TV.

APS is encouraging its customers to take advantage of the first option: The utility’s tree shade program offers Maricopa County customers the option of having APS come and plant a tree in your yard for free, with the goal of maximizing home energy savings. “You’ll block the sun’s rays, reduce cooling needs, and add value to your property,” reads the APS website.

The tree’s shade, APS suggests, will allow you to save money by reducing your consumption of APS electricity. This is precisely what solar rooftop panels accomplish.

So, why is APS promoting one while utterly demonizing the other? It’s a serious question, because one of Arizona’s most impressive industries, the nation’s third largest residential solar market, hangs in the balance.

The rhetoric of APS and the front groups it has paid to run anti-solar PR campaigns claims that solar customers aren’t paying their “fair share.” By simply not consuming APS product, the monopoly is crying foul. They insist on being paid, even for what you’re not using.

The customer whose tree shades their home, and the customer who installs solar, both pay for whatever APS power they consume. And both reduce the need for more backup power and expensive infrastructure such as power lines, which ratepayers have to pay for.

But there is one notable difference between APS’ tree shade program, and Arizonans’ adoption of solar: APS can charge all its ratepayers for the cost of the trees and the cost of delivering and planting them, with no input from non-tree customers. In contrast, rooftop solar is driven by what the people, one by one, are saying they want. And when Arizonans’ hard-earned money goes to a solar company of their choosing, it goes to support Arizona solar industries and its thousands of jobs. Thus, the increase in profits that APS seeks declines.

It isn’t surprising then that the one thing in the utility world that is actually driven by consumer demand, rooftop solar, is what APS strongly opposes. Competition benefits consumers. But for the incumbent monopoly, actually having to satisfy customers to win their business threatens what has for decades been a comfortable and self-serving arrangement. Monopolies such as APS do not need to compete for the affection of their customers, because their customers are captive.

Our energy future should feature a lot of people working hard across Arizona’s rooftops. Arizonans should be empowered to use the free market to make choices which suit them.

Our future may also feature more people planting trees to benefit from the shade. But to claim that there’s a difference between using less APS product by planting trees rather than by going solar, is to engage in rank hypocrisy at the expense of one of the state’s most promising industries.

Ron Bedard, resident, Sun City Festival in Buckeye.

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