A Closer Look at Solar Energy in Arizona

What Others Are Saying

On April 5, 2013, the Arizona Republic published an interview titled “Into the mind of Barry Goldwater Jr.,” in which the former California congressman explains why he is chairing an organization called TUSK, funded by California rooftop solar companies. The article includes several misleading statements and factual errors, detailed below (our responses in italics).  


Why are you chairing TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed)?

Here in Arizona we have no greater resource than our sun. Republicans often talk freedom and allowing individuals to make their own choices. More energy choice means saving money with an alternative to the monopoly.

Rooftop solar is not an “alternative” to receiving service from APS.  Customers who own rooftop solar still depend on APS around the clock to supply power on cloudy days, during times of peak power use, at night – and to deliver their excess power back to the system on sunny days. Rooftop solar would not be possible without a reliable APS electricity grid backing it up.

What exactly is “net metering”?

A successful policy and property right in 43 states providing fair credit for surplus electricity generated from the solar system that you paid to install, which then goes back to the grid for others to use. It’s like the rollover minutes on your cell phone bill. It helps homes, businesses, schools and public agencies save money.

Providing a fair credit for rooftop solar is precisely the point of the net metering issue. Customers who purchase or lease rooftop solar systems currently receive an ongoing subsidy that is paid for by higher electricity rates on customers who do not choose or cannot install rooftop solar.  APS supports rooftop solar and wants to protect customers who have made that choice, but it needs to be fair for all customers and sustainable for Arizona.  APS wants to put the facts on the table about this subsidy and let the ACC make an informed policy decision.

How healthy is Arizona’s solar industry?

It has seen aggressive growth via cost reductions through competition and innovation over the last decade, even as incentives drop and will drop to zero by year’s end. This has resulted in 16,000 jobs for Arizonans and savings for taxpayers. Rooftop solar can and will continue to flourish in Arizona as long as the utilities don’t get to change the rules.

Arizona ranks #2 in the nation for solar energy, and no company has done more than APS to promote the solar industry here.  Our nearly 700 megawatts of solar – enough to power 175,000 average homes – comes from a diverse mix of large-scale solar plants and rooftop units, and from a variety of technologies. APS wants to protect rooftop solar as a choice for customers and as an important part of our supply mix. The threat of job losses from a change to net metering policy is a scare tactic and nothing more.

You say the utilities are fighting net metering to preserve their profits. How much do they stand to lose?

Arizona solar companies are reducing costs, which means more people are going solar. The more people use rooftop solar, the less power they need to buy from the utilities. This means smaller profits for them.

This is another attempt at misdirection – the issue is not about customers buying less power from APS.  We support energy efficiency, and actively promote tips and programs that encourage customers to reduce their energy use.  The issue is that under current rates, rooftop solar customers avoid paying the cost of maintaining the reliable electricity grid they depend on every day – instead, those costs are paid by non-solar customers.

Utilities aren’t known for worrying about rising costs to ratepayers. They’re attacking solar because it reduces their need to invest in new infrastructure, which ratepayers pay for and which earns the utilities a guaranteed profit. That’s good for the utilities, but it’s a potentially unnecessary cost for the ratepayer.

If a “guaranteed profit” sounds too good to be true, it’s because there’s no such thing – just smoke to cloud the issue. And, of course, the California rooftop solar installers who are funding the TUSK front group have a strong profit motive to keep the current subsidy in place. 

APS says net metering is a customer issue because it results in shifting costs to users without solar panels. That doesn’t seem fair.

What isn’t fair is APS never talking about the massive subsidies it receives that inflate its profits and hurt taxpayers.

This is yet another attempt to change the subject away from the facts of the issue.  Utilities do receive certain subsidies, but the savings are passed along to all electricity customers.  In the case of net metering, the subsidy is paid by one set of customers and ultimately goes to the companies that install rooftop solar.

As for net metering, this isn’t true. I haven’t seen any studies to back up this claim. Eliminating net metering would amount to a tax hike on hundreds of Arizona schools and others that are saving millions of dollars with solar. Local taxpayers would be left to pick up the tab.

Let’s start with the studies – here is one. Another will be available soon. One of the reasons APS is raising the issue now is so that Arizona can address the issue while the number of customers who own rooftop solar systems is relatively small, allowing them to potentially be grandfathered in to any solution.  If we wait too long, that may no longer be an option for Arizona policy makers.

And, does anyone really think a stronger monopoly and less choice is good for rate payers?

A stronger APS means safe and reliable service for customers, a dependable economic engine for Arizona, and a strong presence in our communities – and that’s a good thing. And, no matter how many times they say otherwise, we want to preserve rooftop solar as an option for our customers.

You’ve portrayed this as a choice issue. But isn’t solar only a choice for people who can afford to install the panels?

Consumers go solar without owning the panels, like a lease for a car. The customer just pays a low rate for the solar power – lower than what APS charges, which is why the utility feels threatened – and the solar provider handles everything else. This means anyone has this choice to save.

Another misrepresentation – the solar provider doesn’t “handle everything else.”  They still rely on APS to provide power when solar panels aren’t producing, and to deliver excess electricity to the grid.  The issue is for Arizona to decide the fairest way for rooftop solar customers to pay for the infrastructure they use.

All five members of the Corporation Commission, which will decide this issue, are Republicans. Your group’s name alludes to the GOP elephant. Is an intraparty fight developing?

As elephants do, Republicans should be leading the charge for more solar in Arizona, not less. Like school choice and health-care choice, solar choice holds great promise for our state. It should be an important part of the Republican agenda. More competition and less monopoly seems like good politics and good policy.

If the California rooftop solar companies had a question about whether Arizona Republicans support solar, we could have told them the answer is yes. Virtually every survey taken in the recent years has shown broad bipartisan support for solar. Public officials of both parties can work collaboratively to make sure Arizona’s solar industry is sustainable for the long term. It’s too important to our customers and our economy to play politics.