The recent editorial entitled “Demand-based rate strategy makes sense,” authored by a pair of local chamber leaders, seemed peculiar to me. Where might they have learned about an obscure utility rate that hardly exists anywhere in the country? The chambers sounded more like public information officers for utilities rather than cheerleaders for better Arizona commerce.
They go into great detail to defend a proposed rate hike by Unisource Energy which would force unprecedented demand charges on ratepayers in rural Mohave and Santa Cruz counties.
As a retired sheriff for Mohave County, I am well aware that voices in rural counties are few and far away from the halls of power. The bottom line is: Rural Arizona is an easy target for a Canadian based utility to impose rate changes that may have a precedential impact for the larger upcoming rate hearings.
Demand charges are based on when customers use the most power during a 60-minute period each month, rather than charging customers for the power they really use. It’s quite a ploy to raise rates and increase the revenue they receive from residential and small commercial customers.
Traditionally, only large commercial customers are subject to demand charges. But many hire specialists to program advanced software in order to control their energy bills. Residential ratepayers, specifically low-income and the elderly, don’t have that option. This is why organizations like AARP oppose demand charges.
The Unisource Energy plan would also eliminate net metering which requires utilities to fairly compensate rooftop solar customers for the electricity they send back to the grid.
Arizona Public Service supports this idea and will likely seek a similar rate hike if Unisource Energy gets its way. For years APS has been trying to put rooftop solar out of business. Demand charges and eliminating net metering would not only endanger solar, it would cost all ratepayers dearly, and eliminate the ability for Arizonans to choose where their energy comes from.
The CEO of the Salt River Project once said demand charges are so confusing he would be reluctant to put his own grandmother on them. By the way SRP, an unregulated utility, imposed demand charges on rooftop solar customers that resulted in a 95% reduction in applications over the next year. They essentially killed the rooftop solar industry.
As I am watching the solar debate in our state, it seems too many of us have forgotten that when Nevada eliminated net metering over 1,000 jobs were lost overnight and the solar industry in Nevada evaporated immediately.
Our chambers shouldn’t side with monopolies over business competition and the working-class that are forced to pay these exorbitant electricity bills. More money in the pockets of monopolies means less money spent in rural economies.
How could confusing rate hikes and killing emerging technology be good for business? That’s not how you lure businesses to Arizona, much less keep local businesses from leaving town.
It is irresponsible to promote a proven anti-business, job-killing policy and a rate design that makes it difficult for customers to control their bills. Arizonans need economic leaders who are fighting for – not against – competition and free markets.
– Tom Sheahan is a retired Mohave County sheriff