Michael Kanellos Contributor
Will consumers let utilities use their roof for $30 a month?
Arizona Public Service, the dominant utility in the state, has filed for permission to install approximately 20 megawatts of solar on 3,000 homes in its service territory. APS will recover the cost of the systems—approximately $57 to $70 million—through charges across its entire customer base. In exchange APS will be delivering solar to customers.
It will also pay those customers with systems on their roofs $30 a month.
The proposal—if ultimately implemented—could potentially have a large impact on solar installers like SolarCity. From the perspective of some customers, it could be attractive. APS will take care of the installation and maintenance of the solar systems. The cost of them will be spread across the customer base, just like the cost of any power plant, and some lucky customers will qualify for a rebate.
It’s solar without the hassles. In areas with large numbers of lower income homeowners who can’t get credit to install their own solar systems, it could be attractive. APS serves 1.1 million customers so there is room to grow.
English: Solar Array – Arizona State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On the other hand, it takes one of the big advantages of going solar out of customers’ hands: namely, the ability to save money and keep your energy costs stable. Over the 20- to 30-year lifetime of a solar system, consumers can save thousands of dollars: in Hawaii the savings can reach $60,000 by some estimates. Loan and financing options are also expanding and lowering the cost of solar. Barry Cinnamon, CEO of installer Cinnamon Solar, has said that the declining price of systems is prompting many consumers to buy their solar systems outright.
Under APS’s plan, consumers will still likely get hit with annual increases in energy costs.
The APS plan also won’t go down without a fight. The utility was part of a successful effort to impose a property tax of 70 cents per kilowatt on residential solar systems. It also donated funds to an anti-solar campaign that alleged that “California billionaires” were getting rich of state tax dollars.
Solar developers will also argue that, unlike APS, they can’t apply to a state agency to get a fixed rate of return for the systems they install.
“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,” the Solar Energy Industry Association said in a statement. “Our member companies welcome fair and equal competition, but this move would stack the deck in favor of a company which can rate base solar with a guaranteed rate of return. How is that fair? The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) needs to think this through very carefully.”