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5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017)  newsfeedback@fool.com

Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade. 

What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.

Nevada takes the top solar spot

California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita. 

Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come. 

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there. 

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon. 

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time. 

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future. 

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list. 

What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future. 

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APS says solar, energy efficiency to make up 50% of new production

by Frank Andorka (April 13, 2017) www.pv-magazine-usa.com

Arizona’s largest investor-owned utility says the next 15 years will include significant increases in solar production, battery storage products and significant reductions in coal-fired production plants.

APS' 2017 Integrated Resources Plan predicts its customers should expect to see more utility-scale solar development by the company, like this facility outside Tucson, Arizona.

With the net-metering battle in its rearview mirror, Arizona Public Service (APS) is forging a new electricity-generation future – and says solar will play a crucial role for at least the next 15 years.

APS filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the state’s Corporation Commission (which regulates utilities) late yesterday, and it contained good news for consumers who want to be powered by solar, including a prediction of a significant increase in private rooftop solar capacity. The plan is the result of a three-year-long, back-and-forth discussions with customers.

The plan says Arizona’s customers can expect more solar power and energy efficiency programs over the next 15 years, generating nearly 50% of the utility’s new energy growth. It says it will also expand its battery-storage programs beyond its existing 500 MW of pilot programs to support solar power and its smooth integration into the grid.

Among APS’ other commitments are to develop a more robust and advanced grid infrastructure to allow an increase of distributed energy resources, batteries and microgrids, as well as figuring out the best ways how solar, energy storage and other technologies interact. Lastly, APS pledged to reduce its use of coal will drop from 21 percent to 11 percent under the plan.

APS serves about 2.7 million people in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Renewable energy currently makes up around 12% of the utility’s non-carbon based electricity production.

Arizona currently supports 7,310 solar jobs, more than half of which are in installation, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. It ranks No. 1 in access to solar resources and has a current renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of reaching 15% of its utility production from renewable energy by 2025.

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Arizona regulators vote to stop net metering for solar

By Ryan Randazzo, (Dec. 20, 2016) www.azcentral.com

Arizona utility regulators voted Tuesday to end the system of net metering, where homeowners with solar panels get retail credits for power they send to the grid, and instead reduce the amount utilities pay homeowners for rooftop solar power.

The five Arizona Corporation Commission members approved a judge’s recommendation with some amendments after a full day of discourse and hours of public comments on Monday, mostly from solar advocates.

The Corporation Commission began the proceeding in 2014, and hundreds of comments were filed, including those submitted by solar companies, mines, consumer advocates, utilities, merchant power plants and other groups with a stake in the decision.

Commission Chairman Doug Little and Commissioners Bob Stump, Robert Burns, Tom Forese and Andy Tobin all seemed comfortable with changes to net metering, though they debated details of how to compensate homeowners for the power. The final vote was 4-1 with Burns opposed.

“I think we’ve accomplished something pretty historic today,” Little said during his vote. “While I will tell you that perhaps the decision we’ve come to today is not a perfect decision, it is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Through net metering, each kilowatt-hour from solar panels that goes to the grid is credited on monthly bills. The credits roll over month to month and offset the electricity that homeowners draw from the utility at night or when their panels are not making enough electricity to serve their needs. 

Because each kilowatt-hour of credit offsets a kilowatt-hour homeowners otherwise would purchase, it is worth the retail price of electricity, about 10 to 14 cents each, depending on a utility customer’s rate plan.

That will be substantially less than the retail price of electricity, officials agree. To prevent a shock to the industry, the regulators seemed to agree on a different calculation for rate cases that are pending, such as that for Arizona Public Service Co.

Representatives from Vote Solar and the Alliance for Solar Choice estimated the changes would mean a 30 percent reduction in what utilities pay solar customers for their electricity, though some parties to the case disagreed with that figure.

The pending rate cases will use a “resource comparison proxy” that will pay solar customers a rate based on what utilities are paying for solar energy from large solar power plants. Those wholesale rates are also below the retail rate solar customers get for their power today.

The commissioners agreed they didn’t want to reduce the payment more than 10 percent in a given year, though the initial drop-off from net metering to the new calculation could be more than that.

Solar customers still will be able to use power from their panels on site, and avoid buying that energy from their utility. The savings they get from “self-consumption” isn’t affected by the changes, only the compensation they get for sending excess power to the grid.

The new compensation rates for excess solar power won’t be used until those utilities go through a rate case.

The decision also will not affect customers who already have installed solar, but will apply only to those who install it once the order takes effect at utilities under the purview of the Corporation Commission. Commissioners agreed to the so-called “grandfathering” provision to preserve net metering for existing solar panels for 20 years from the date they were connected to the grid.

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How much are rooftop solar panels worth? Arizona utility regulators to decide

by David Wichner – Arizona Daily Star (Dec, 10, 2016) www.tuscon.com

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After years of debate, Arizona utility regulators finally appear ready to decide a long-burning question: What is solar energy generated on customers’ rooftops really worth?

The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to decide the issue on Dec. 19, when it will consider proposals to change rates for rooftop solar customers including controversial cuts to credits solar customers get for the excess power they generate.

And that could have a major impact on the cost and adoption of rooftop solar in territories of state-regulated utilities including Tucson Electric Power Co. and the biggest state-regulated utility, Arizona Public Service Co.

Under the process, known as net metering, solar customers are credited monthly at the full retail rate for excess power — for TEP about 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Any credits left at the end of the billing year are credited at each utility’s comparable cost for wholesale power, for TEP about 2.5 cents per kwh.

While solar companies and advocates want to keep the full retail credit rate, TEP has proposed cutting the net-metering credit rate from the retail rate to the cost of power from its most recent utility-scale solar farm, about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, reasoning it is a similar resource.

APS has proposed a rate not much more than the avoided cost of fueling conventional power plants, about 3 cents per kwh.

In a ruling in late October, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge said regulators should scrap the current system of reimbursing customers with rooftop solar at the full retail rate for power.

For the near future, Judge Teena Jibilian said, new credit rates for solar customers should be based on short-term studies based on costs avoided by rooftop solar, or on the cost of power from large, utility-scale solar farms.

The cost studies would be based on a rolling five-year examination of the benefits and costs of rooftop solar, potentially eliminating from consideration long-term benefits including reduced pollution and public-health costs.

That riled solar advocates, who insist long-term societal benefits of solar including lessening the need for new fossil-fuel power plants and reduction of health risks should be fully counted.

The judge’s recommendation, will form the basis for the Dec. 19 hearing, but the full Corporation Commission has final say and can reject or modify the proposal.

For its part, TEP agrees with most of the judge’s decision but has sought clarification on several issues, company spokesman Joe Barrios said.

The company wants it made clear that “banking” of solar energy credits — allowing one month’s excess production to be credited toward the next month — would end under the new rules.

In commission filings, TEP said it prefers the solar-farm cost proxy for setting solar export rates over the avoided-cost methodology, but that the commission should clarify that utilities could use either.

CHILLING EFFECT

Any cuts to net-metering rates would reduce the advantages of solar and extend the financial payback period for such systems by years.

In fact, the prospect of fewer solar benefits has caused many customers to balk at installing their own panels, especially since the utilities have been telling customers changes are on the way.

Kevin Koch, owner of the local solar installation firm Technicians for Sustainability, said his business has been down since TEP filed to change net-metering policy effective June 1, 2015.

The matter was put off along with other utilities’ net-metering change requests, to await the outcome of the value-of-solar proceeding, but TEP’s notices that net-metering rates could change chilled the market, Koch said.

“That created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the marketplace,” he said.

TEP didn’t see much of a drop off overall, however.

This year through November, TEP counted 3,019 rooftop solar installations tied to its grid, compared with 3,199 in all of 2015, and 1,937 in 2014.

The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.

William Rood was interested in installing solar on his SaddleBrooke home when he found that his power company, Trico Electric Cooperative, was proposing changes including new demand charges and lower net-metering rates for rooftop solar customers.

With Trico’s help he calculated that the proposed new credit rate of 7.7 cents per kwh would extend his payback period more than two years. Still, Rood decided it was worth it.

In October he spent about $20,000 to install a 6.36-kilowatt photovoltaic system that offsets most of his power usage.

“I decided to go ahead with it because it was the right thing to do,” said Rood, a retired newspaper reporter and editor.

Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.

In a pending rate settlement with the Corporation Commission’s utilities staff, the Trico net-metering changes would apply to customers who applied to install their systems after May 31. All prior customers would be grandfathered under the old rate system.

But in a recommended order issued last week, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge recommended that the new rules should apply to Trico customers who apply to install solar after the effective date of the new rates, likely early next year.

The judge in the value of solar case also has recommended that all solar customers be grandfathered under current retail credit rates until each utilities’ new rates are approved.

Though the matter isn’t settled, Rood said he’s glad regulators are rejecting the idea of retroactive changes.

“The grandfathering thing, I think, is just patently unfair,” he said.

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Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

by Steve Hanley (Aug 16, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Solar power disrupts the business of existing utility companies. In exchange for being granted a monopoly to generate and distribute electricity in a given geographic area, utilities are guaranteed a certain rate of return. That gives them an incentive to spend more money on power plants and grid expansion. The more they spend, the more money they are allowed earn. That’s how the power game is played in the US.

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Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar

Utility grids are designed to distribute electricity from one or two central locations to many residential and commercial users. But solar customers often feed excess electricity back into the grid from its margins. That cuts into utilities’ profits, so they try their best to put up barriers to the practice.

They complain that solar customers are not paying their fair share to maintain the grid (and line the pockets of utility company executives). They try to lower the amount they pay solar customers for their electricity. Another favorite tactic is to impose a surcharge on the utility bills of customers with rooftop solar installations.

Solar customers argue that they are conferring a benefit on all people in the service area because their electricity is not made by burning fossil fuels. They say they should be compensated for the improved health prospects of the community. They also argue that they shouldn’t pay as much toward the upkeep of the grid and limited expansion needs because their electricity is used locally and doesn’t need to travel long distances over high-voltage lines.

Earlier this year, the Nevada public utilities commission (PUC) knuckled under to the demands of Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. It ended the requirement that the utility pay for excess electricity and imposed hefty monthly surcharges on rooftop solar customers. All across America, utility companies have initiated a war on rooftop solar. It’s not that they object to solar energy, as such. It’s just they don’t want to give up control over what they think of as “their grid.” They also don’t want their income reduced in any way.

Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico

Regulators in Arizona and New Mexico have sided with solar customers in two recent instances. On Thursday, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the request by UNS Electric to add fees for solar customers and do away with net metering. Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,” Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. “I appreciate the Commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.”

“This decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. “The decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.”

Also last week, regulators in New Mexico approved a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Company’s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.

The struggle between utilities and solar customers is far from over. Elon Musk last week made some conciliatory remarks when he said there is room enough for all in the electricity markets of the future. He also foresees an end to net metering. Musk expects the demand for electricity to double or triple as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But solar power advocates are happy to win two small skirmishes in the war this week.

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Arizona regulators table net metering request, add rooftop solar surcharge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

Instead of going quietly into the night, these giant power utilities are fighting back to preserve their guaranteed profits while resisting the growing movement to renewable energy, forcing rooftop solar owners to pay the penalty.  Perhaps with this level of 20th Century, antiquated, bottom-line logic they can also serve as the self-appointed defender of the typewriter, Walkman, floppy disk, and dot matrix technology.  The big utilities may slow solar down, but this world-wide Renewable Revolution will not be stopped.  Better to get on board than watch from the sidelines.   (Brent Sauser)

By Rod Walton (Aug 12, 2016) www.elp.com

High voltage post against dreamy backgroundArizona energy regulators voted Thursday to allow UNS Electric to add a monthly surcharge on customers with new rooftop solar systems. Solar power advocates, however, say the decision was a victory because the new charge is substantially lower than what UNS initially wanted to impose.

The Arizona Corporation Commission approved a $1.58 monthly charge on UNS customers who add rooftop solar power systems after new rates take effect probably by September. The fee was sized down from an original $5.95 monthly surcharge proposed by UNS.

Overall, UNS customers will pay about $4 more per month due to higher standard rates. UNS’ service territory covers much of Arizona outside of Phoenix.

The commission, however, tabled a net metering cut proposed by UNS and its sister utility, Tucson Electric Power. Arizona Public Service also has filed a request for a net metering cut. Net metering forces the utility to buy back excess power generated from rooftop systems at the retail rather than wholesale rate.

Solar advocates such as Earthjustice and Vote Solar applauded the commission’s delay and fee reduction. They argued that UNS and APS’ proposed cuts—trimming as much as 73 percent from the net metering paybacks, by some accounts—would have brought the growing rooftop solar adoption to a halt. Some analysts have said that if adopted the cuts would make rooftop solar uneconomical by the middle of 2017.

“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power. I appreciate the commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona,” said Briana Kobor, Vote Solar’s DG Regulatory Policy Program Director.

UNS will return to the commission with the proposed net-metering reduction plan once the regulators have heard other solar-related cases.

A report by the Solar Energy Industries Association several years ago estimated that distributed solar generation and net metering provides about $34 million annually back to Arizona Public Service customers. Some reports have put the overall net metering payback at close to $1 billion over a 20-year period.

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Regardless of Fierce Opposition, Rooftop Solar Is Unstoppable

by Javier Sierra (Aug 4, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

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As the Spanish saying goes, the sun is the poor man’s blanket. And thanks to technology, it’s also our heating system, air conditioner, refrigerator and a shinning spot that lights up our clean energy future.

The solar industry is the fastest growing sector of the US economy. It currently employs more than 200,000 workers, thousands of them Latinos, and double that of the coal mining industry. And for us Latinos, solar energy is a three-fold blessing.

“Since I had my rooftop solar panels installed last year, I spend less than half of what I used to pay for dirty energy,” says Oscar Medina, a client of Solar City in Tucson, AZ. “It not only keeps my home cool in the Arizona desert, it also allows me to avoid using power from dirty coal.”

And one of those thousands of Latino solar workers is Roberto “Bobby” Rosthenhousler, another Tucson resident, whose mother is from Los Mochis, Mexico. He enthusiastically supports solar.

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“If you are Latino, this is a good choice,” says Bobby, who installs panels for Net Zero Solar. “As long as the sun is there, we are going to have a job. I want to be a pioneer because there is only room to improve in this industry.”

But dark clouds loom over solar —the backlash of public utilities. In the last four years, the explosive growth of rooftop solar has turned it into a severe threat to an archaic system based on a monopolistic model that heavily depends on dirty energy.

Take Arizona utility Tucson Electric Power (TEP), which owns, at least partly, four coal-burning plants, including the San Juan Generating Station in Northern New Mexico.

TEP is due to review its energy plan for the next few years, which presents it with the opportunity to drop at least a large part of its coal fleet and expand its clean, renewable energy portfolio. Alas, TEP plans to stick with the dirty coal plant, hike rates for its customers and damage Arizona’s growing rooftop solar industry with new fees on solar customers such as Oscar.

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Utilities across the country justify these rate hikes by arguing that rooftop solar clients continue relying on the electric grid without contributing their fair share to its maintenance. Study after study, however, indicates that rooftop solar reduces the stress and wear of the grid by using it less often. Furthermore, it limits the construction of expensive, dirty plants, thus substantially reducing coal pollution and the climate change it triggers.

These abusive practices may paint a bleak future for the rooftop solar industry. The clean energy progress, however, is unstoppable. A Cambridge University study indicates that photovoltaic solar panels will soon be more competitive than any fossil fuel energy. And this scares the living lights out of the energy dinosaurs.

“They need to let other environmentally friendly companies come in and provide a service that would especially benefit working-class families,” says Oscar. “It’s clear that utilities need to stop the pollution that makes people sick, especially us Latinos.”

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“My four-year-old is autistic,” says Bobby. “And that’s one other reason I went into clean energy. I worry about all those chemicals in the air affect my child. This is something I can give back to him.”

No matter how hard the utilities try, you can’t block the sun with an umbrella.

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Letter: Can we move the solar debate forward?

by Sally Rings (May 6, 2016) www.azcentral.com

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For years I have read the articles about the ongoing battles about solar energy in Arizona, and they are almost entirely about the bottom lines of the utility companies and the solar industry.

Virtually nothing is said about the kind of energy each is promoting, and yet the difference is huge. Fossil fuels, which are the primary sources of energy sold by utility companies, are life-destroying on many levels: the obliteration of ecosystems in the mining, the pollution and illness caused in the burning, and the global warming increases at all stages.

On the other hand, solar energy is clean and renewable, contributing to the sustainability and balanced flourishing of life. My hunch is that, because people understand this, if offered energy from both sources at the same price, they would choose solar over fossil fuels (unless they have a vested interested in fossil fuels).

My hope is that, as negotiations begin among those connected to both sources of energy, the long-term effects of both would enlarge the conversation beyond short-term bottom lines.

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Arizona solar ballot initiative launched by super PAC

by Ryan Randazzo (April 15, 2016) azcentral.com

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Arizona voters could weigh in on whether utilities can charge special rates to solar customers that make it less economical to go solar.

An industry-backed super PAC called Yes on AZ Solar filed paperwork Friday seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would preserve the system of net metering, where utilities give solar customers a one-to-one credit for most of the excess power they send to the grid.

The group will be lead by Kris Mayes, a former chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission and director of an energy council at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. She will take a leave from ASU to run the campaign.

The initiative is called Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act, and because it seeks to amend the state Constitution, will require 225,963 signatures by early July to get on the ballot this fall.

AZ-Solar 02“We believe Arizonans have the right to decide this issue for themselves,” Mayes said Friday. “Do we want to be the solar capital of the world? Do we want the right to produce our own power? Arizonans will overwhelmingly say, yes, we do. Solar is part of who we are as Arizonans. This will enshrine that fact in the Constitution.”

Mayes said the initiative is being backed by the solar industry, and that additional filings will be made regarding its supporters. Christine Brown of Lincoln Strategy Group is the committee treasurer. Mayes said “significant” resources will be put into the campaign.

“We are in this to win it,” Mayes said.

Arizona Public Service Co. and other utilities have been adding new fees to solar customers, contending they don’t pay their fair share of maintaining the power grid. The initiative, if passed, would end that practice.

AZ-Solar 03“This is a ridiculous attempt by California billionaires to get richer by forcing higher energy costs on Arizona consumers,” APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Friday. “It works against Arizona families and is detrimental to sustainable solar in Arizona.”

Net metering helps customers lower their utility bills because the credits they get for excess power accumulate and offset power they draw from their utility at night or when they have multiple appliances running, requiring more power than their solar panels generate. Except for rural homes off the power grid, most solar homes don’t have batteries to store the power, so it must be used instantly or sent to the grid for others to use.

Utility policies such as net metering traditionally have been regulated by the five Arizona  commissioners, who are elected to their statewide office and vote on such matters. Commission Chairman Doug Little on Friday declined to comment on the initiative, saying he wanted to take the weekend to review it.

Utilities adding fees for solar customers

As the price of solar panels dropped in recent years and leasing arrangements became common, utilities across the country have sought ways to amend net metering and get solar customers to pay more for their utility service.

In addition to preserving net metering, the initiative seeks to protect solar customers from other fees that single them out, and from unnecessary delays in gaining utility approval to begin generating power, which has been a problem recently as some customers wait weeks to turn their systems on.

The initiative would protect solar customers for six years, through 2022. After that, new solar customers could face rate changes, but those who install solar by then would be allowed to remain on their existing rate plans as long as they continued to use solar.

Mayes said the initiative would prevent fees like those in Nevada, where regulators made changes in December and February to solar customers’ rates. That prompted some solar companies to leave the state.

AZ-Solar 04UniSource Energy Services, with 93,000 customers in Mohave and Santa Cruz counties, is requesting similar changes from its regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission and the state’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service, is scheduled to file a rate case in June that is expected to make major changes to solar rates, in addition to the average $5 a month in special fees those customers pay now.

If the Arizona Corporation Commission approves new solar-specific rates, and the initiative makes it to the ballot and passes, then the utilities will be given 90 days to come into compliance with the law.

Letting voters weigh in on solar debate 

The UniSource case has drawn support from utilities like APS and opposition from the statewide solar industry, which fears that if they pass, they will set a precedent for APS and other utilities.

“Time has shown that demand rates are not popular,” said Mark Holohan of Wilson Electric, a board member of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, who learned of the ballot initiative Friday.

“All the utilities in Arizona are proposing radical changes to residential rates,” Holohan said. “I think this is an exciting thing to go to the people of Arizona to seek their opinion on the subject, since there appear to be some radically different thoughts on it.”

Salt River Project, which is regulated by its own elected board of directors, enacted new rates on solar customers last year and has seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of people installing solar. The initiative Mayes is pushing would not affect SRP rates, only those investor-owned and co-op utilities regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

The initiative comes just weeks after two solar advocates won election to the Salt River Project board of directors, traditionally a difficult, small-time election for outsiders to win.

Paul Hirt and Nick Brown ran for the board because they disagreed with the board’s new solar fees. Those charges can largely wipe away any savings solar customers see by generating their own power.

Hirt is an Arizona State University professor of history and sustainability. Brown is an energy consultant who moved to the area in 2011 to help ASU develop solar.

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Will SRP ever see the light on solar energy?

by Nick Brown (March 25, 2016) www.azcentral.com

Viewpoints: Salt River Project, the nation’s largest public electrical utility, only gets about 5 percent of its power from renewable sources. That’s not nearly enough.

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Salt River Project  has a rich history of providing dependable and affordable electricity to its ratepayers, which number nearly one million accounts and about two million people in metro Phoenix.

The nation’s largest public electrical utility, SRP’s electrical district ended 2014 with a $40 million surplus on just under $3 billion in revenues. Fiscal responsibility, high quality customer service, dependable electrical service and overall sound management are hallmarks of the utility.

Yet, SRP’s progress toward renewable energy deployment is poor.  Only 5.7 percent of its power is generated by renewable energy sources, according to the utility’s own website.  By comparison, 23.8 percent of PG&E’s power is from renewable sources, 21.6 percent of SoCal Ed’s, and 23 percent of Austin Energy’s.  By capitalizing on Arizona’s abundant solar energy, SRP can become a leader in clean energy.

The district must become more innovative and more supportive of rooftop and utility-scale solar energy.   Several policies and projects will result in a greener SRP, including:

Get rid of the rooftop solar tax

Roll back the E-27 rooftop solar tariff that has taken away the solar option for ratepayers and crippled the solar industry in the SRP service area.  In February 2015, SRP implemented a demand charge for new solar customers that lacks a technical basis, and that drove 2,200 solar jobs out of Arizona last year.

This knee jerk reaction to the solar boom has turned out to be bad for SRP customers who want to use clean energy, bad for Arizona’s solar industry and awful for the state’s reputation among businesses that are looking for friendly places to locate innovative enterprises.

Developing SRP rate plans should be done through an even-handed, unhurried, transparent fact finding process that considers multiple studies, expert opinions and public input.

These things didn’t happen last year, and unlike rate making processes of the Arizona Corporation Commission, SRP’s deliberations rarely include any of these features.

SRP decisions should include these ideas:

  • Develop a pricing plan that incentivizes solar rooftops to face west

  • Solarize select areas of the canals

  • Build solar farms at Apache Lake and Canyon Lake

  • Couple demand reduction with solar energy

  • Develop a microgrid project

  • Develop thermal energy systems in commercial centers

SRP will continue to develop and purchase energy from regional wind farms, solar farms, hydroelectric facilities, biomass plants, and geothermal plants.  It will continue to subsidize energy audits, LED lighting, home insulation and time-of-day use plans.

Continued success of these programs, in conjunction with initiatives such as those outlined above, will maintain the financial strength of the SRP Electric District, reduce exposure to fuel price increases, reduce SRP’s greenhouse gas emissions, provide cleaner air and water for Arizona, and provide ratepayers and our grandchildren the lowest cost electricity over the long term.

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Rooftop solar companies ask Ducey to veto Lesko’s bill

by Ryan Randazzo (March 21, 2016) The Republic/azcentral.com

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Rooftop solar companies are hoping Gov. Doug Ducey (Arizona) vetoes a bill passed by state lawmakers that would put new requirements on the way they describe and market their products.

Senate Bill 1417, sponsored by Republican Debbie Lesko, was transmitted to the governor Thursday.

It prevents installation companies from beginning work on rooftop panels unless an interconnection has been approved by the utility. This requirement is waived if a utility takes more than 60 days to approve an interconnection.

It also puts new requirements on how solar companies must describe the estimated amount of money customers will save on their utility bills and disclosure regarding how those savings are calculated, including how they estimate utility rates to increase.

“The legislation feigns to protect consumers from bad actors but results in placing all solar business at a disadvantage by increasing costs through burdensome red tape,” said a letter endorsed by the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association and a handful of solar companies sent to Ducey on Friday.

The letter said that the industry already is heavily regulated, noting the the Registrar of Contractors and Attorney General have oversight of companies that somehow harm consumers.

In addition, a similar bill that passed last year has hardly had a chance to take effect since Jan. 1.

The letter reminds Ducey of his pledge to “get out of the way of business” and avoid new regulations.

Ducey issued an executive order in January 2015 placing a moratorium on regulatory rule making.

“Onerous regulatory mandates on businesses are one of the greatest barriers to job creation,” Ducey said at the time. “As a state that has yet to fully recover from unprecedented job losses during the recession, it is imperative that we take every possible action to ease the burden on Arizona employers and continue to move our economy forward. This order is a significant first step toward achieving that mission.”

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