Throughout last year, residents of Arizona that wanted to install solar panels fought bitterly against Arizona Public Service, the utility company that provides most of the state with electricity.
APS had been lobbying for significant monthly net metering fees to be applied to solar homeowners’ monthly bills as a penalty for generating their own electricity — the argument being that the more people go solar, the fewer utility ratepayers were carrying the burden of funding grid infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
Never mind that the claim itself has been largely debunked, as Annie Lappe of VoteSolar wrote in November: “A study conducted this year for SEIA showed that these net metered systems actually deliver much more: $34 million in annual net grid benefits for APS customers alone. That’s before accounting for the social and environmental benefits: cleaner air and thousands of local jobs.”
Writing in the Arizona Republic this week, Ryan Randazzo answers a much more interesting question: Has the new monthly fee, of 70 cents per kilowatt of solar installed, slowed down Arizona’s previously rapid solar boom?
Although it’s definitely too early to say definitively, the answer seems to be “yes, probably.” Randazzo writes that just 41 APS customers applied to connect a rooftop solar system to the grid during the first nine days of 2014 — down from between 150 and 200 each week in 2013.
Even if, as APS says, the beginning of the year is a slower time for solar installs, and that some new paperwork requirements may also be slowing down the process, Randazzo finds that solar systems are also smaller so far in 2014.
Of the new systems that have applied to connect to APS’ grid since the fee began, 30 are leased and 11 are owned by customers. The average size is 5.5 kilowatts, which is smaller than the 7 kilowatt average installed in the past few years, APS officials said.
Given that the new monthly fee is based on solar system size, it’s not surprising that homeowners may be aiming smaller — consider what would happen if APS had gotten its way and levied a $50 or $100 per month fee on solar homeowners, instead of the 70 cents per kilowatt monthly fee?
We’ll check back in with APS later this year to see if the slowdown is continuing.
Arizona sunset photo CC-licensed by Wikimedia user Saguaro Pictures.