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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Solar Energy Tug-Of-War Begins: Brandon Cheshire of SunHarvest Solar discusses the implications of APS' proposal to raise rates for solar customers

Sep 02, 2013 12:15PM ● By Brandon Cheshire

In case you have been too busy to notice what is happing in the solar energy sector, here is a simple breakdown for anyone interested in keeping a vibrant solar industry in Arizona. Arizona Public Service (APS), the electric utility provider for much of Arizona, has submitted a proposal to charge a $50 to $100 fee for its customers that install solar panels for their own energy generation and use. APS argues that those customers in Arizona, as well as 42 other states, using solar power are only billed for the power they pull from the grid.

APS takes the position that while using self-generated solar power does indeed leave a customer using less power from the grid, the customer still pulls some power during cloudy or dark times and has to use the existing grid and infrastructure to receive that electricity. Likewise, the same infrastructure is used when a solar customer generates excess energy and sells it back to the grid.

Solar customers have made sizable investments in solar ($7,500 to $100,000 or more) based upon a fair and widely supported rate for energy exchange. Solar consumers are currently credited for excess power their solar system produces through a provision called “net metering”. Solar supplies “on peak” power to the grid during daylight hours, thereby reducing the need for any additional infrastructure because the excess energy is fed back into the power grid and immediately consumed by their non-solar neighbors. Net metering is a free, market-based commodity exchange of energy, at a fair market value rate. APS loves solar only when they own it and can profit from the surcharge they assess to the end consumer.

The “green collar” solar electricity (PV) industry is at odds with that, and sometimes hostile exchanges have transpired over the proposal. While APS asserts that this fee is simply a safeguard against undue costs charged to non-solar customers, solar companies universally assert that it’s a tax on the solar industry, and that benefits to ratepayers in the APS service territory exceed the compensation provided to solar customers through net metering credits. Solar energy industry leaders also point to concerns that a shakeup in their industry could effectively end the rooftop-solar market in Arizona. Currently, the solar industry alone employs almost 10,000 people in this state and 119,000 people nationwide.

Their concern is that clean energy has been dropping dramatically in price over the last few years, even as utility incentives have almost completely vanished. People that are smart with money see solar as a very wise and promising investment, with guaranteed returns yielding 15 percent annual return. APS likes solar when they can monopolize our energy sources, but not when the public wishes to generate their own energy on their own property. Justice would choose fair and equal exchange in a free market economy over a gentrification of our energy sources.

The bottom line here is that our climate is observably changing, the science is clear, and we are a major contributor to this changing climate. Science tells us that roughly 80 percent of all the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground for us to maintain a habitable planet for human beings.

Whether or not one agrees with climate change, there is not a downside to healthy and clean air, water, soil, forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife. When 200 species are going extinct every day, we do not want to be heading in the exact opposite direction when it comes to energy production. We possess the technology now to do the right thing for our future generations. We need to act to protect solar in the state of Arizona and the 10,000 green collar employees of this remarkably efficient and clean industry.

Brandon Cheshire is the chief technical officer for SunHarvest Solar & Electrical, serving the greater Phoenix area. For more information on going solar, call 623-755-8323 or visit


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