SolarCity made a deal with Arizona Public Service, putting an end to the public fight pitting the utility company against solar companies. On Thursday, the agreement between Arizona’s biggest utility and the nation’s largest solar company was announced, and hopefully this deal means the competing measures asking voters about how to treat rooftop solar power are finally being removed.
Strong foundation for future reforms
Both sides have agreed to negotiate how solar customers who produce extra power on their rooftops are to be paid. Lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey negotiated with SolarCity and APS. The governor’s office will participate in the talks, and if all goes well, then eventually, other solar firms and utilities will sign on as well.
Less than an hour after Republicans in the Arizona Senate started taking steps to send Arizona voters separate rates for rooftop solar users and regulate solar leasing companies as utilities, Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, announced the deal. Lesko said these actions are intended to enable constructive discussion between Arizona electric utilities, including APS and SolarCity.
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The fight started two years ago when utilities started preparing rate cases and began pushing added fees for rooftop solar customers. The rooftop solar industry fought back, saying the utilities were protecting their profit by trying to kill the industry.
Citizens’ initiative from SolarCity: the hero
The SolarCity-backed citizens’ initiative is seen as the primary reason behind the announcement. The initiative commanded utilities to pay people who produce power with rooftop solar panels the full retail price for the power they send back to the grid.
After a citizens’ initiative was filed earlier this month, Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, and Lesko crafted the voter referrals with help from APS. This task needed a massive signature-gathering effort, while only House and Senate approval was required for the legislative referral.
In less than two weeks, the initiative collected more than 40,000 signatures, said Kris Mayes, the former Arizona Corporation Commissioner who was chairing the citizens’ initiative. The initiative needed 225,000 signatures to get on the ballot by July 7.
“The people of Arizona resoundingly support solar,” Mayes said. “And I think that’s why the governor’s office decided to show some leadership in this process and help these parties along.”
This is a big deal, especially that even without a precedent, a large utility like APS and the nation’s largest solar company, SolarCity, are coming together for negotiations, said Mayes.