Arizona Public Service dropped its bid to increase its solar fee today and called out “political gamesmanship” by solar groups that muddied the request to increase the fee.
APS asked the Arizona Corporation Commission to increase its solar fee from an average of $5 monthly to $21. The utility says solar users don’t pay their fair share to access and maintain the electric grid, putting costs onto non-solar customers.
“Unfortunately, what should have been a relatively simple decision-making process has been turned into political theater by attacks and distortions from rooftop solar leasing companies that seek to paralyze Arizona regulators,” APS said in a statement, released Friday.
The commission voted in August to move forward with a hearing now on the solar fee. Solar groups have said the fee needs to be considered as part of a full rate case, where other options to address cost shifts would be on the table.
Instead of deciding on the solar fee increase, APS suggests the commission undertake a hearing that would address the cost it takes APS to serve its customers, both with and without solar, and consider how those costs affect the way the utility’s rates are designed.
“We hope our proposal will provide an alternative for the ACC to move forward with a much-needed discussion about how to update electricity pricing to reflect energy innovations like rooftop solar, battery storage and home energy management systems,” APS said.
If a hearing on the cost of service issue happens soon, the outcomes can be used to address cost shifts in APS’s upcoming rate case, expected to be filed in mid-2016.
In recent weeks, attorneys representing former commissioners and solar company Sunrun asked for the recusal of three Corporation Commissioners from the APS proceeding because of biases.
More than $3 million flooded the Corporation Commission elections in 2014 to support commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, and many speculate the money came from APS or its parent company, Pinnacle West. Because of the amount of money spent to elect Forese and Little, attorney Hugh Hallman argued the two regulators are biased and must recuse themselves from the APS solar fee proceeding. Another complaint alleges Commissioner Bob Stump has repeatedly shown his bias against solar companies in social media posts and interviews.
The Alliance for Solar Choice asked for a rehearing on the commission’s decision to hear the solar fee increase proposal now because, the solar group claims, it’s unconstitutional.
In its filing, APS calls the motions to rehear a “desperate attempt to avoid addressing the issues.”
APS sharply criticized solar groups, particularly TASC, which counts solar giants SolarCity and Sunrun as members. APS alleges TASC is using personal attacks and public accusations to undermine the solar fee discussion and avoid talking about real issues.
“They will do anything to delay or change the subject. Take away their ability to engage in innuendo, personal attacks and bumper-sticker sloganeering and they have nothing left to offer,” APS said.
APS said it cannot sustain its level of solar deployment without addressing the costs that are shifted to non-solar customers, and the cost shift continues to grow and needs to be addressed urgently.
“These California-based solar leasing companies have no stake in Arizona beyond the money they can make leasing rooftop solar panels to homeowners, pocketing the tax credits, selling the leases to financial firms and moving on,” APS said.
Court Rich, an attorney for TASC, said it’s great that APS decided to forgo its solar fee, but the accusations against solar groups are “really passive-aggressive.”
“It’s like the little kid stomping their foot going back to their room, but still doing what their parents told them to do,” Rich said.
Rich said he needs to analyze the utility’s idea for a cost of service hearing and what that would mean for solar before commenting on the merits of such a hearing. But he said APS’s move shows the utility knows increasing the solar fee outside of a rate case is wrong.
“APS is really going to be lecturing the solar industry on how to act and what to be doing? That’s ridiculous,” Rich said.