‘Trojan Horse’ claim over Arizona utility solar plan

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Motives behind a proposal by the largest utility company in Arizona to install 20MW of solar on its customers’ rooftops have been questioned by the US Solar Energy Industries’ Association (SEIA).

Last week Arizona Public Service (APS), which serves over a million customers in the state, announced that it had submitted its proposal to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which would see the utility install 20MW of generation capacity across around 3,000 rooftops by the end of 2015.

According to APS, if the plan is approved, each of the 3,000 customers would receive a US$30 credit each month for the 20-year life of the programme, which would add up to US$7,200 in total. The systems would be installed at no upfront cost to customers.

APS is asking for the right to add the solar under the wider remit of its AZ Sun programme, which since 2010 has given the utility the right to install 200MW of community solar in Arizona. So far AZ Sun has led to the addition of 170MW capacity. Additionally, implementation of the new plan would result in a 10% increase in residential rooftop PV’s contribution to APS’ grid.

The corporation commission must now decide if the proposed plan is preferable to a request APS filed in April to install a 20MW ground mount PV plant. According to APS, the utility now has 800MW of solar installed within its service areas, ranking the utility fourth highest for installed capacity of PV in the US. However, this was not enough to place APS in the top five of a recent report by research and advisory firm Clean Edge, which ranks utilities for overall renewable energy performance.

Arizona has recently seen some pitched legal battles between solar advocates and APS. Last year, over a thousand people attended a rally as the corporation commission deliberated a proposal by APS to charge fees for net metering. Also, earlier this year a reinterpretation of property law was put forward by the Arizona Department of Revenue that would tax homeowners for their PV systems, a proposal that one analyst told PV Tech was most likely influenced by lobbying group Arizona Tax Research Association, which includes APS on its board.

SEIA released a statement yesterday which heavily questioned the fairness of the plan, implying it would be uncompetitive and would not be welcomed by the solar industry in Arizona. SEIA vice president of communications Ken Johnson said:

“Our member companies welcome fair and equal competition, but this move would stack the deck in favour of a company which can rate base solar with a guaranteed rate of return.”

Johnson openly questioned the motives of the utility, referring to the recent disputes and asking why a company which had sought to oppose solar previously was now looking to install its own systems.

After attacking rooftop solar companies in Arizona relentlessly for more than a year, this latest tactic by APS has a ‘Trojan Horse’ smell to it,” he said.

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