Dismay at Arizona PV grid-tax

Future owners of PV systems in Arizona will be hit with a monthly grid-services charge, in a controversial decision which industry advocates say sets a dark precedent for the US solar roll-out.

The Republican-controlled Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), which oversees the state’s energy policy, yesterday voted 3-2 to allow for a surcharge on all residential PV systems installed from the beginning of next year – ostensibly to cover the cost of grid maintenance in a state where solar energy is flourishing.

The charge will amount to about $4.90 per month for a typically sized residential system, although it may be increased in future.

Although that is significantly less than what was being demanded by Arizona Public Service (APS) – the state’s dominant but private-owned electrical utility – sources within the solar industry say the decision sets a dangerous precedent that may creep across the country.

Arizona, like California and other solar-friendly states, has a net-metering programme in place, which allows owners of PV systems to feed excess power onto the grid during sunny periods, and then draw down the difference at nighttime.

APS and other utilities, in California and elsewhere, argue that net-metering schemes essentially shift the burden of maintaining the grid onto energy consumers who do not own PV systems.

The decision means that Arizona “now has one of the shakiest policies” for solar energy in the nation, claims Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Washington DC-based Solar Energy Industries Association lobbying group.

Arizona is the second-largest statewide market for PV in the US, albeit a distant second-place behind California.

“While we applaud the ACC’s decision to keep net energy metering in place – and appreciate [its] last-minute efforts to find a middle ground when it comes to new fees on solar customers – we are deeply troubled by today’s precedent-setting action,” says Resch.

APS said it will continue pushing for a larger surcharge in future, as the new rate covers “only a portion” of the “cost shift” from Arizona’s net-metering scheme.