Arizona media is ablaze with news about solar energy this week, as Mesa firefighters responded to a fire of rooftop solar panels at an Apple plant. More than 100 firefighters were required to control the blaze, which collapsed part of the roof. And the Apple fire wasn’t the only jolt felt this week because of solar energy.
Solar advocates in Arizona are once again battling their utility companies, which have proposed controversial new ways to reimburse customers who produce their own energy through solar panels.
The Tucson Electric Power company and the Arizona Public Service utility say their new proposals make the energy policy more equitable for everyone, but Arizona solar advocates say it’s an attack on self-generators.
“Customers who install distributed generation, like rooftop solar, do use the grid — 24 hours a day. But because of a rate design that the [Arizona Corporation Commission] has found to be ‘unfair’ and ‘defective,’ customers with [rooftop solar] don’t pay their fair share for that use,” APS said in a statement.
Currently, state regulators have a fixed rate of $0.70 per kilo-Watt, which is what utility companies charge solar customers for the energy they produce. The utility companies want that rate more than quadrupled to $3 by the end of the summer.
The battle over rates will only heat up as more residents and businesses install rooftop panels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says at least 1 million U.S. homes will use solar energy within five years, although so far Arizona only has 2% solar penetration.
“I can buy solar energy from a larger scale project on my distribution system, paid for by my ratepayers, at $0.058 per kW, half the price I am forced to credit people who push energy back on the grid from net metered systems,” said Carmine Tilghman, the Energy Supply Senior Director for TEP.
However, Court Rich with The Alliance for Solar Choice says the rates are already too high at $0.70 per kW, and says an increase would unfairly punish customers who produce their own power.
The utility companies counter that as more people install solar systems, the costs are shifted to customers and business that do not, or cannot, produce solar energy of their own. The utility companies want regulators to make a decision by August.