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Updated Oct 31, 2013 - 2:56 pm

Arizona utility advocates propose smaller price hike for solar users

PHOENIX — Advocates for residential utility customers are recommending
that regulators require new solar customers to pay more, but much less than
proposed by the state’s largest utility.

The new monthly charge of $7 recommended by the state Residential Utility
Consumer Office would gradually increase to $20 over time, depending on market
conditions.

Arizona Public Service Corp. wants the Arizona Corporation Commission to
require customers who install solar panels on their rooftops to pay
substantially more: between $50 and $100 a month.

The utility says current incentives are too generous, meaning that customers
who get much of their power from their own solar panels don’t pay their fair
share of the electric grid’s infrastructure costs.

Through “net metering,” solar customers get a full-price credit from the
utility for the excess energy that’s produced by the customer’s rooftop panels
and sent back into the electric grid.

Solar users and the industry say APS’ proposal would increase profits for the
utility at the expense of customers and would undermine the solar industry’s
fiscal foundations.

RUCO said solar customers are avoiding some grid infrastructure costs but that
the gap should be closed gradually.

“I think we kind of hit the sweet spot,” RUCO Director Pat Quinn said of the
proposed unveiled Wednesday. “It’s not enough for APS, and it’s too much for
the solar industry.”

The Corporation Commission is expected to consider the issue Nov. 13-14.

Under RUCO’s proposal, the proposed new fee would be charged only to customers
who install solar panels after the fee goes into effect.

In another development, commission member Robert Burns demanded that utilities
and solar groups disclose how much they’re spending on advertising about the
issue.

Burns said he wants to know whether money paid by customers has paid for
campaigns by utilities and their allies.

“The pressure is coming to bear on this commission,” Burns said Wednesday.
“The PR campaign, this street fight, has misled voters. … My problem is, who
is paying for this?”

Burns also asked for the same information from solar companies that have
opposed APS’ proposal.

APS has said the company was using profits _ money that would otherwise go to
stockholders _ to pay for its campaign.

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