Former ACC chair leads push for Arizona ballot measure to protect solar

Dive Brief:

  • Yes on AZ Solar, a new Arizona political action committee (PAC) backed by national solar installers like SolarCity, has filed with the Secretary of State's Office for a place on the 2016 ballot for a proposed constitutional amendment to protect solar.
  • The Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act would keep the retail rate credit for net energy metering (NEM) in place and prevent any solar-specific charges to be added to system owners’ bills through the end of 2022.
  • Solar advocates say reductions in the NEM credit and solar-specific charges ruin the solar value proposition. But such rate changes are needed, according to a utility spokesperson, to prevent “higher energy costs on Arizona consumers.”
  • Former Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes will leave her current position as a director at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability to lead the ballot measure effort.

Dive Insight:

Arizona has been a hotbed of solar policy debate since at least 2012, when utilities and installers began to tussle over how best to compensate solar owners for the power they send back to the grid.

Last November, state regulators ordered a full cost-benefit analysis of the effects of rooftop solar on utility systems, but solar backers aren't waiting for the results to protect their resource. Arizona Public Service, PV Tech notes, has a rate case coming in June and could well propose changes to net metering rates and other solar policies. The utility sharply criticized the new ballot initiative.

Solar advocates are "hoping that the popularity of solar will prevent voters from looking too closely at the details,” Arizona Public Service spokesperson Anna Haberlein wrote in an email to Utility Dive. But their proposal would “be detrimental to sustainable solar in Arizona."

“We caution voters not to be fooled," she said. 

Because the measure would amend the Arizona constitution, backers must obtain 225,963 signatures supporting it by early July to get it on the November ballot.

The use of ballot initiatives to leverage public support is a new strategy being employed by renewables advocates. It was successful in Oregon. When threatened with a ballot measure for an increased renewable energy mandate, utilities chose instead to come to the table and partner with advocates in drafting legislation to phase out coal power and hit 50% renewables by 2040. 

The strategy went awry in Florida, however, where a ballot measure to legalize third-party ownership (TPO) backed by solar installers floundered due to insufficent finances and an inability to collect enough signatures. Now, a utility-backed solar measure that does not legalize TPO is on its way to appearing on the ballot. 

Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Distributed Energy Regulation & Policy Corporate News
Top image credit: Wikimedia; DGustafson