Wednesday, September 9, 2015

AZ's electric utilities' unrelenting war on solar

Perhaps the greatest impediments to a conversion to solar power will come from the folks who have the current systems on their books as investments.  It only makes sense.  The people who have invested in the power infrastructure did so expecting reliable and generous returns.  The fact that those investments are helping to destroy the biosphere is beyond rational debate.  It's just that those invested in electrical stocks want the problem to be solved at someone else's expense.

The following is from Dailykos and is written by someone who would like to make his rooftop part of the solution to CO2 atmospheric buildup.  I have absolutely no idea how accurate all his comments are concerning the local utility's opposition to distributed solar generation, but they sound about right.  What is worse, the problems he describes sound like they could easily be replicated wherever someone has invested in the current ways of doing things.

AZ's electric utilities' unrelenting war on solar

Dave in AZ  SEP 07, 2015

Arizona electric utilities are at war with solar - more specifically, they're at war with privately generated solar - rooftop PV (Photovoltaic) solar panels. You see, Arizona electric utilities are a collection of co-ops. The larger ones - Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project - own most of the power generating plants, and sell some their power directly to residential and business customers, as well as selling their power to other cooperatives in Arizona and utilities in other states. Whether you're a cooperative that generates electricity or one that just buys it from them and sells it at a markup to residential and business customer, they've all had a pretty cozy monopoly for over 100 years, and they don't like the idea of anyone cutting into part of their take. That would be companies like Solar City that make rooftop solar affordable with no upfront costs, but a 20 year lease on the equipment.

So, Arizona electricity utilities are fighting back. They claim that folks who like the idea of generating their carbon free electricity from the sun aren't bearing their "fair share" of the costs of maintaining the grid transmission lines. Most rooftop solar is designed to be as "net zero" as possible - generate enough surplus electricity in the daytime that is sold to the utility that it evens out the electricity bought back at night or cloudy days. The logic is that those folks' small electric bill shifts the cost of maintaining their grid to customers who don't have solar. And that's just not "fair" the electric utilities claim. Well, it's also complete bullshit. Solar's peak energy generation for the grid is during the peak demand hours - afternoon and early evening, when usage and rates are highest, reducing strain on utilities and conventional power sources like coal, gas, and nuclear. And solar is distributed generation (DG), meaning it is fed into the grid and used by the nearest connection to the grid that needs electricity. Instead of having to transmit the electricity you need to run your AC or fridge from a power plant hundreds of miles away, they can send it to you from your next door neighbor with rooftop solar.

And utilities love to whine & moan about the costs imposed on them by the EPA and other federal and state regulations on how much crap they can spew out into our air. Well guys, here's a source of clean energy with almost no EPA regulation that has almost no cost to you in infrastructure investment, especially compared to the cost of building a new power plant to meet rising demand from a growing population. But no, Arizona electric utilities are acting like 21st century Buggy Whip Makers - they don't want to change, and they don't want anyone else to get any of their cut of the economy.

One of Arizona's largest electric utilities fired the first shot - in 2013 Arizona Public Service (APS) launched a campaign to weaken Arizona's net metering rule, which requires utilities to buy the extra solar power their customers generate and provides a major incentive for homeowners to install rooftop panels. Investigative reporting revealed APS gave cash to two nonprofits that ran an anti-solar ad campaign in the state, and that a letter criticizing the solar industry's business practices, sent by members of Congress to federal regulators, was originally authored by an employee of APS. When their effort to weaken net metering failed, APS then applied to the state agency that has oversight over them - the Arizona Corporation Commission - to let APS quadruple the fees it tacks on to the monthly bills of solar-equipped homeowners. But the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted to charge a far-reduced 70 cents per kilowatt, meaning homeowners will pay about $5 a month.

Then, in February of this year another large electric utility - the Salt River Project (SRP) - voted to place a $50 per month surcharge on customers who install new solar rooftop (solar installations made prior to Dec. 7 2014 were grandfathered in for up to 20 years). Because the Salt River Project (SRP) also distributes water and due to some backroom deal making in the early 20th century, the Arizona Corporation Commission has no oversight over SRP, so the rate increase is a done deal. The charge will be levied no matter how much the electricity the customers take from SRP is offset by production from their solar panels. Not all all coincidental, the $50 per month surcharge will eliminate much - if not all - incentive to install new solar rooftop panels in the large area (most of Phoenix) that SRP services. Solar City, one of the largest residential solar leasing companies, is threatening to sue SRP. Solar City sent a letter to the SRP Board, stating "the new price plan is “unsupportable by any economic analysis” and that the “fundamental purpose of the plan is to undermine solar leasing companies in SPR territory.” Yep, that pretty much says it all. In 2013, Arizona installed 701 megawatts of solar electric capacity, placing it second in the country. With solar installation prices rapidly dropping and new finance mechanisms coming online regularly, SRP and other electric utilities see rooftop solar not as life changing technological breakthrough that it is, but instead as a threat to their monopoly. So, they're fighting back with every dirty tactic they can think up.

And recently, those dirty tactics just became very real for me. I live in central Cochise County, in the southeastern corner of the state, and I get my electricity from the Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, SSVEC. This Saturday I got a nice letter from SSVEC entitled "IMPORTANT EARLY NOTICE TO SSVEC MEMBERS OF CHANGE IN RATES COMING IN 2017" (yeah, they thought it was so important they used all caps). What first got my attention - and blood pressure rising - was the monthly residential service charge will rise nearly 250%, from $10.25/mo. to $25! They claim the increase is necessary because "as members provide more and more of their own electricity SSVEC is being transformed into more of a delivery company and less of an energy sale company", and they need the large monthly serice fee to maintain the grid. What pure and utter bullshit - I wish they were just a delivery company, then I could pick & chose and buy my electricity from solar installations instead of the coal fired power plant SSVEC buys almost all their electricity from. And what an ALEC inspired rate structure - to protect revenue stream let's just impose a fixed, large monthly fee that everyone pays equally. Never mind that the fee will hit retirees getting by with just Social Security and other low income families the hardest - that's their fault for not 'working harder' and being rich. No guys, maintenance for infrastructure has always been paid for by those who use it the most. We don't charge every vehicle a flat charge to maintain our bridges and highways, those who use them the most pay for it - those who drive the most buy the most gas or diesel and pay the most in fuel taxes. But, then I read on and really got my blood pressure going: (all cap alert!)


If you are considering installing any kind of DG system, SSVEC strongly suggest incorporate the new rate structure into you decision making process.

And what is that new rate structure? The monthly residential service charge increases almost 500%, from $10.25 to $50. Even worse, under Arizona's net metering plan utilities pay owners of rooftop solar feeding surplus electricity into the grid the same rate they charge them to take power from the grid. SSVEC's current residential rate is 12.6 cents per kWh (Kilowatt hour). Under their new rate plan, SSVEC will pay rooftop solar owners only 2.58 cents per kWh. In summary, what SSVEC is proposing to do is kill new residential solar in their territory, most of southeastern Arizona. I had been considering going solar, but with the large monthly fee and reduced payment for my carbon free electricity it makes no economic sense. Even worse, I'd be subsidizing these bastards by bearing the cost of a solar installation entirely on my own, while they get to sell the electricity I generate to my neighbor down the road at an almost 600% markup!

I'm going to fight this with all my energy, but this is fight we all need to make for the future of carbon free solar electricity. Arizona isn't alone in fighting solar, large electric utilities in Wisconsin and New Mexico are proposing similar surcharges on residential solar generated electricity, with more sure to follow. And they all use the same tired old bullshit excuse - residential rooftop solar doesn't pay it's 'fair share' of maintaining the grid!!!! Well, there's one little prick to blows up that bullshit excuse completely:

Remember Arizona Public Service (APS)? First they tried to weaken Arizona's net metering rule, which requires them to purchase surplus electricity from residential rooftop solar. When that failed they wanted to impose up to a $100 per month surcharge on owners of rooftop solar, but that got shot down to only $5/mo. Well, they didn't give up, they're back with a new plan: APS has approved a $28.5 million dollar plan to install 10 megawatts of solar panels. But where will they install those panels? On the rooftops of around 2,000 of their customers! APS would offer homeowners a $30 credit on their monthly bill in compensation, effectively 'renting' their customers' rooftops. But.... but.... but wait - if the utilities' fight against rooftop solar was justified because rooftop solar wasn't paying it's "fair share" of maintaining the grid, then are those APS customers renting their rooftops to APS for a $30 discount on their bill paying their "fair share"?

You see, it was never about any bullshit about everyone paying their "fair share". No, it was always about the utilities maintaining their monopoly on electrical power generation and distribution. Residential solar electricity is electricity by, from, and for the 99% vs. nuclear and fossil fuel electricity by, from, and for the 1%! And helping save the planet and slowing climate change is a nice little side benefit. more

1 comment:

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