It's A Big Year For The Future Of Arizona's Solar Energy Industry

By Will Stone
Published: Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 8:51am

It’s a big year for the future of Arizona’s energy industry.

State regulators are taking on five electric rate cases and those decisions will likely set the course for the growth of distributed energy here. The first case, for UNS Electric, began at the beginning of March.

Chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission Doug Little said they’re holding a full evidentiary hearing on the value and cost of rooftop solar, which will be the first time that has ever happened in the country.

“Up till now, the discussion has been largely political, emotional, and there have been very passionate advocates on both sides, but what we really haven’t done is get the facts," said Little.

According to Arizona Public Service, residential solar has grown leaps and bounds and an additional 80 to 100 megawatts is forecast to be added each year. The utility said that is forcing even more ratepayers to subsidize the solar customers who are hooked up to the grid.

The rapid deployment of rooftop solar panels drove Nevada to recently phase out net-metering, which reimburses solar customers at retail rates for their excess power.

David Noble is one of the regulators who oversaw those changes in Nevada. “I don’t think that was ever going to be sustainable in Nevada. It really was a gold rush boom and bust,” he said.

But Sanjay Ranchod with national rooftop solar company SolarCity said preserving net-metering is critical for Arizona and other states.

“If you do the math and look at not just the costs and revenue lost to utilities from more of their customers going solar, but look at the benefits," said Ranchod, "Net metering in fact does provide rough justice to all the ratepayers."

SolarCity is cautiously optimistic about the solar market here in Arizona, he said. But due to policy decisions, the state has fallen from second in the nation for solar jobs to seventh.

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