Hope Shines for Southern Arizona Solar Customers

Some positive news from Arizona, where a number of major utilities have proposed rate changes over the last year that are designed to undermine the economics of solar – and in turn undermine consumer energy options, clean energy jobs, and business innovation. Utility proposals – including those from Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power, and Unisource Electric (UNSE) – have been met with strong opposition from consumer advocates, community organizations, and the solar industry.

Monument Valley Sunset

Last week, an Administrative Law Judge working for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) released a recommended order that weighs both facts and stakeholder input on the UNSE rate case. We intervened in the case along with our legal partners Earthjustice, and we’re pleased to see the judge’s largely positive recommendations for our key priorities in the case.

Notably, the judge’s recommendation preserves full retail credit for solar power through net metering and rejects mandatory demand charges on residential customers pending the outcome of a separate docket looking at the appropriate methodology for assessing the value of solar. Vote Solar has also intervened in the value of solar proceeding where we are advocating that the full spectrum of long term costs and benefits be considered as the Commission evaluates future solar policy. The recommended order also grandfathers customers onto existing net metering rates and makes clear that retroactive grandfathering dates, as proposed by UNSE, should not be approved.

The recommended order requires UNSE to file a plan to default all residential and small commercial customers to time-of-use (TOU) rates with the choice to opt-out onto the standard inclining block rate. According to a recent Rocky Mountain Institute study (pdf), TOU rates are far more manageable than demand charges, and can significantly reduce peak load and total energy consumption.

The judge also recommended increasing residential fixed charges from $10 to $13 – a bigger increase than we’d like, but less than UNSE’s proposal to increase fixed charges to $15.

While the case won’t be made final until a vote in August, this recommended order is a promising step forward for homegrown solar and its many benefits to Arizonans – consumer savings, local jobs, cleaner air, and much needed energy innovation. We applaud the judge’s commitment to facts and stakeholder input in the case thus far. We’re hopeful to see more of the same strong leadership in the Commission’s vote in August and in Arizona’s other utility rate cases.

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