The Arizona Corporation Commission on Thursday rejected a utilityâ€™sÂ requestÂ to add fees for solar customers and do away with a popular program called net metering, in which customers are paid retail rates for the electricity they add to the grid.
Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.
â€œTodayâ€™s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,â€ Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. â€œI appreciate the Commissionâ€™s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.â€
The commission did agree to increase the fixed charges that every customer pays.
Utilities across the country have argued that solar customers, who can in some cases zero out their bill by putting more electricity onto the grid than they use, are shifting costs to other, non-solar customers. However,Â studies have shownÂ that rooftop solar actually benefits the entire customer class.
The utility, UNS Electric, serves only 93,000 customers in southern Arizona, but the victory for solar was seen as an important one, largely because the Salt River Project, one of Arizonaâ€™s largest utilities,Â succeededÂ in a bid in late 2014 to put a $50 fee on solar customers. The new rate sent a jolt through the stateâ€™s solar industry, which lostÂ a quarter of its jobsÂ in less than a year.
After failing to get a similar rate hike approved in 2013, the stateâ€™s largest utility, APS, has continued to fight for fees on solar customers. NegotiationsÂ recently broke downÂ between the utility and the solar industry. Any rate changes must be approved by the commission.
So it was greeted with a sigh of relief when the commission did not grant UNS Electric a similar decision.
â€œThis decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,â€ said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. â€œThe decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.â€
Earlier this week, regulators in New Mexico alsoÂ gave the solar industryÂ a negotiated win, approving a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Companyâ€™s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.
In Nevada, solar customers were hit with aÂ massive rate changeÂ at the end of 2015. Instead of using retail prices for the net metering rate, NV Energy got approval to pay customers wholesale pricesâ€Šâ€”â€Ševen though the utility doesnâ€™t have to pay for any of the solar panelsâ€™ hardware or maintenance, and transmission costs are negligible, since the electricity is being generated close to where it is used.
Solar supporters attempted to put the issue to the voters with a ballot initiative, but the state Supreme CourtÂ ruledÂ earlier this month that the initiativeâ€™s language was misleading and could not appear on the ballot in November.