Solar and public utilities are exploring new ways to work together, with Tucson proving pivotal in the conversation.
The site of many a showdowns back in the day, Tucson is of course a very different town than it was in the days of the Old West. While Tucson may have reformed its reputation from the times when it was a place for pistol-packing cowboys, it may well be the site of one of the major showdown of the 21st century—that between public utilities and solar technology.
The Center of the Discussion
As a city that ranks in the Top 5 of U.S. cities when it comes to solar, it is no surprise that Tucson finds itself in the center of the developing and sometimes conflicted relationship between utilities and solar. On the state level, Arizona Public Services Co. is in an ongoing discussion with the Arizona Corporate Commission over the rates charged to consumers who use solar technology tied to the power grid. APS is requesting a cost study with the hopes of raising fees on solar consumers.
The solar industry has presented a counterargument stating that APS’ cost estimates do not include several cost benefits associated with solar, including reduced carbon emissions and dollars saved on future power plants. Additionally, several petitioners from the solar industry contend that members of the Arizona Corporate Commission were elected using “dark money” from APS itself, skewing their objectivity. This ongoing case may prove pivotal for net metering of solar and set a precedent for solar use across the nation.
Exploring Common Ground
It’s not all doom and gloom for solar in Tucson, however, as more utilities discover that they can adjust their business models to incorporate solar and benefit from this 21st century technology. Tucson Electric Power, for one, is in the process of launching its own first foray into the solar market. Rather than dig in their heels, the utility has decided to explore new revenue channels in solar. The company will essentially rent the rooftops of participants, providing a solar installation for the customer. The program launches this year with 500 participants in the Tucson region and will look in utility rates for these customers over the 25-year lifetime of an installation’s solar panels. Tucson residents who had previously found solar cost-prohibitive have an inroad to the technology, too, via the program.
The TEP program also plans on working with private solar companies rather than against them by contracting the installation work out to companies throughout the region. It is this kind of pragmatic thinking that just may take Tucson from showdown to innovation when it comes to solar in the next few years.
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