In a closely watched case surrounding the issue of net metering (selling power back to the grid) the Arizona Corporation Commission which regulates utilities in the state this week approved the collection of fees by Arizona Public Service Co. from customers who sell power to the utility from rooftop solar installations.
Bloomberg reports that:
Arizona Public is required to buy solar power from customers with rooftop panels, and the commission agreed with its argument that the policy unfairly shifts some of the utility’s costs to people without panels. Imposing a fee designed to address this issue may prompt power companies in other states to follow suit, and will discourage some people from installing new systems, according to the Sierra Club.
There was a hotly debated campaign leading up to this decision in which the utility spent over $3 million making their case (10 times the amount spent by the solar industry), but the agreed-upon fee was far less than the $50-100 per month that Arizona Public was asking for. The commission set the fee at 70 cents per kilowatt sold back to the utility — which will mean that the average monthly fee that solar generating customers will pay will be around $5 dollars per month.
The decision was not a complete loss or victory for either side. The net metering system was left intact, but Arizona regulators are agreeing in this decision that there is a responsiblity for people who are using the grid’s infrastructure to sell electricity to the grid, but it doesn’t really address the question of who should bear the cost if and when people leave the grid completely, as new technology makes off-grid living more of a possibility.
But this is not likely to be the end of the debate. The Arizona Republic quotes Commissioner Bob Burns who noted ““This is the tip of the iceberg . . . who pays for the grid when people leave is the biggest issue we’ll face.”