Going solar is perhaps the the largest expression of energy independence, sustainability and energy savings homeowners can do. If you have solar power or have ever considered going solar, it's also important to consider how the utility companies feel about photovoltaics because unfortunately, installing solar alone is only considering half of the bigger picture.
As solar power customers, do you know what is happening in Arizona that could affect your savings? Most solar power users intend to use solar power as a way to save money, but this could be changing as the Arizona Corporation Commission members set rates and other policies for power companies. APS and SRP may seem like they are favor of solar power, but but have been quietly working to kill solar by taking away rebate incentives, forcing demand based energy plans and killing pro-solar bills at the State level. These changes directly affect your energy bills. We have seen homes with full solar that should satisfy 70% of their summer energy bills be hit with $300-$400 bills because of demand charges.
No matter how APS and SRP dance around the cons of solar, residential solar directly takes away their business of selling electricity. When a homeowner has solar equipment and produces most of their own energy, they take away the bulk of their business from the power companies. This means that non-solar customers are the ones supporting the majority of the power grid. The power companies want the non-solar customers to pay the excess that is not being paid by the solar customers. The companies claim that rate hikes are necessary to keep them in business, but what amount should non-solar customers be expected to pay, and are the companies being fully transparent about rate hikes?
AZ Central reported that “APS described the rate hike last year as averaging 4.5 percent on residential customers” and "raised their bills and average of “$6 per month”. Although, customers have found their bills to be significantly higher than the figures APS described. When we compared APS's new vs old rate plans, we found an average of 56% increase.
A View From Non-Solar Customers
On the non-solar side, customers should not necessarily be penalized for not using solar energy, because they are the ones largely supporting the grid. If the number of non-solar customers continues to dwindle, then the cost will fall on those than cannot or will not switch over to solar. These customers may not want to switch due to factors such as renting the property that they purchase power for, or their distaste for the look of solar panels on their property.
A View From Solar Customers
On the solar side, customers may be paying more for the power they do not generate themselves. Typically the solar equipment produces the majority of the power they use, but any extra power must be purchased from the power companies. The rate hikes makes it so that they might not be saving enough money to make their lease of the solar equipment worth it (Phoenix New Times, 2013). Solar power is still an attractive investment because as of now and for the next several decades it will continue to save residents money. It will also provide benefits for people who are interested in environmental sustainability or people who want to go off the grid completely.
The important action point now is to be aware of what the power companies are trying to accomplish and how it affects non-solar and solar customers alike. The power companies ultimately want to be able to make money, and their main way of achieving this objective is raising the rates. It will be important as the ACC begins to discuss this topic that the rates set do not hurt solar customers for choosing an option that proves more sustainable, but also does not severely impact those still directly tied to the grid.
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