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Power The Almighty Buck Technology

Arizona Approves Grid-Connection Fees For Solar Rooftops 363

Posted by timothy
from the that's-just-the-solar-cover-charge dept.
mdsolar writes with this excerpt from Bloomberg News: "Arizona will permit the state's largest utility to charge a monthly fee to customers who install photovoltaic panels on their roofs, in a closely watched hearing that drew about 1,000 protesters and may threaten the surging residential solar market. The Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, agreed in a 3-to-2 vote at a meeting [Thursday] in Phoenix that Arizona Public Service Co. may collect about $4.90 a month from customers with solar systems. Arizona Public is required to buy solar power from customers with rooftop panels, and the commission agreed with its argument that the policy unfairly shifts some of the utility's costs to people without panels. Imposing a fee designed to address this issue may prompt power companies in other states to follow suit, and will discourage some people from installing new systems, according to the Sierra Club."
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Arizona Approves Grid-Connection Fees For Solar Rooftops

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  • Re:what cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:35AM (#45442515)
    Anything that generates electricity that is not a huge power plant is a threat to the electric company. They will do whatever they can to mitigate that threat. They do not want to become an entity in a world where everyone has generating capacity at their own homes, and they simply maintain a network or wires to share surplus amongst them and top them off at peak load times.
  • Sums it up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ElementOfDestruction (2024308) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:35AM (#45442517)
    The utility spent $3.7 million to promote its argument, compared with about $330,000 spent by the solar industry, according to documents filed with the commission.

    Fuck these crooks. $3.7M buys a lot of infrastructure improvement.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:37AM (#45442523)

    The Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, agreed in a 3-to-2 vote at a meeting yesterday in Phoenix that Arizona Public Service Co. may collect about $4.90 a month from customers with solar systems .....
    Arizona Public had requested a fee of $50 a month or more, and the commission’s decision “falls well short of protecting the interests of the 1 million residential customers who do not have solar panels,” Chief Executive Officer Don Brandt said in a statement. ... ...
    “We preserved customer choice in Arizona while recognizing that these cost shifts are real,” said Bob Stump, chairman of the commission. “I think it’s a fair outcome.” The regulators overruled their staff, who recommended in September that the issue be taken up in the utility’s next formal rate case in 2015.
    The utility spent $3.7 million to promote its argument, compared with about $330,000 spent by the solar industry, according to documents filed with the commission.

    Oldest trick in the book. Ask for the moon ($50/month insanity) and cry when they hand you a sterling silver platter instead.

    I sincerely hope cheap high density batteries come out in the next decade that will make grid tie completely moot point if all you want is energy at night.

  • APS is right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:40AM (#45442531)

    You still need fossil fuel power plants to regulate voltage. Those have to be paid for and solar installations are getting a benefit without paying for it. VARS aren't cheap. And bitching over 5 bucks a month - that is nothing.

  • BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:43AM (#45442549) Homepage Journal

    If i produce power and give it back to the system they should be paying ME, not the other way around. WTF.

    Its not hard to avoid not feeding back into the "system", but what sort of nonsense is this where you get penalized for trying to be a good citizen.

  • Re:Sums it up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ZosX (517789) <zosxavius AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:43AM (#45442551) Homepage

    How long will solar panel owners be paying off their 3.7 million dollar victory at $5 a month? What an incredible waste of money.

  • Re:BS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:46AM (#45442573)

    Its not hard to avoid not feeding back into the "system", but what sort of nonsense is this where you get penalized for trying to be a good citizen.

    This is America, where undercutting the large corporations doesn't make you a good citizen, it makes you an enemy of the state.

    If people had solar, that would undercut oil. And they're not going to allow that.

  • by Crimey McBiggles (705157) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:50AM (#45442593)

    The free market argument is a weak one, and doesn't correlate with the reality in which we live. Have you seen the way "free market" ISPs operate in regards to competition? Doesn't work so well does it? With many geographical areas being locked into a choice between AT&T and Time Warner, there is virtually no competition. There are many who are arguing that ISPs should be treated as public utilities so that they can't throttle competing services that traverse their wires, requiring government intervention.

    If you want to argue that the government is screwing something up and needs to get its hands out of something, I'd look towards the military industrial complex.

  • Re: APS is right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Alex Cane (3296683) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @10:57AM (#45442643)
    You still need fossil fuels to power industry. Try running a aluminium smelter off a solar farm...
  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:02AM (#45442671) Homepage

    I'm not sure I understand the logic of the commission (that is, the logic of their stated argument, as opposed to the unspoken "we just got $3.7 million from the utilities so we'd better side with them" argument that we all suspect).

    The Arizona Corporation Commission says that this fee is necessary because people who use solar are foisting off some of the maintenance cost onto the other customers who do not use solar panels.

    Some residents installed solar-electric panels on their homes. Any excess energy they generate is sold back to the utilities, transmitted through the utilities infrastructure. The utilities are claiming that this is costing its other, non-solar customers money. But how?

    It's not costing them money in infrastructure; that is still being paid for by all its customers - including those using solar power, as they are still hooked up to the grid and paying Arizona Public for the service (necessary, I suppose, for the occasional cloudy day in AZ). The maintenance costs of the lines are included in this service, just as they are for any other Arizona Public customer; it is not as if AP had to hook up any extra lines to these users of solar power, or as if the lines remain connected and the solar-customers aren't paying for the privilege.

    The utility has to pay for the juice they receive back from these solar-customers, but they can then redistribute this power to other non-solar customers. AP need generate less electricity. I /suppose/ that AP might be operating at loss here if they have to pay out more per watt than it costs them to generate it themselves, but I have strong doubts this is the case. More likely, they are getting a deal on the extra volts and saving by not having to buy extra fuel for their generators.

    In either case, I do not see how the use of solar would raise the cost of electricity for non-solar customers. Maintenance is shared equally among all customers, and purchased electricity from solar users saves the corporation money. There's no added cost to be passed on to non-solar customers.

    There is a danger of becoming irrelevant (and unprofitable!) if solar usage takes off, but - while that may be the real concern of the utility - that is /not/ the argument that they are making.

    Is the Arizona Corporation Commission's case that blatantly bogus or am just I missing something?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:05AM (#45442677)

    And the highest consumer demand for power is during a hot sunny day.

    And those are the days where there's most gained from solar power, so the other moron is wrong too.

  • by l2718 (514756) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:06AM (#45442683)

    The cost of delivering power has two components: fixed costs (say, power lines to the home) and variable costs (say, of producing the power) The current system was to bundle the fixed costs into the variable ones, and just chage proportional to consumption. Since those selling back power to the grid still need to pay for the fixed costs, this principle of this change seems right. Better execution would have been to add the fixed cost to everyone and make a corresponding reduction to the marginal (per KWh) tariff, at which point those with and without solar panels would be treated equally.

  • Re:what cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:09AM (#45442707)
    There is a cost of spinning reserve and grid stability maintenance. Why shouldn't those who need it or negatively impact it pay for it? The real cost should probably be even more, depending on the size of the installation. Its only $4.95/mo.
  • Worst Law Of All (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:11AM (#45442717)
    This law is the equivalent of telling your wife you love her while beating her half to death. Society should love people who conserve energy and our government has begged the public to conserve for decades. So laws that encourage people to use solar power are all that we should have. This new tax will hold back solar installations which is exactly what the government claims it does not want. The same is true for electric cars. Electric cars avoid a gas tax so some states now have a special fee for allowing people to use electric cars under the guise that they are not paying their fair share of road taxes. In the case of a fee applied to solar powered homes the tiny fee first required means little. But it puts people on notice that that fee will grow and grow over time. The simple truth is that as more and more homes go solar the grid, in effect, gets smaller and smaller but still has the same maintenance fees which must be passed on to the people who use the grid. Therefore we should expect electric prices to rise for those that do not install solar which will encourage more and more people to go solar. At some point the power gri will not be needed at all for homes and industry will be the only consumer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:17AM (#45442745)

    Have you seen the way "free market" ISPs

    Protip: Such a thing doesn't exist in the US. You know why you have a shitty choice in Internet providers? Because your local government sold you out.

  • by MrDoh! (71235) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:24AM (#45442777) Homepage Journal
    In the US? You'd have tv ads claiming this was a communist incursion.
  • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:32AM (#45442815)

    I do not see how the use of solar would raise the cost of electricity for non-solar customers

    There is a cost associated with keeping a local gas or coal plant running at, say, 30% power ready to make up for shifts in solar and wind input. Plants run most efficiently at 100%, and there is significant efficiency loss running at lower output. Also, the fixed costs of the running the plant (staff, etc) remain the same, even though less power is being produced, thereby further increasing the power production costs from that plant. Don't underestimate this cost. The need for this spinning reserve is increased significantly with a large solar and wind component on the grid.

  • Re:what cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:34AM (#45442821)

    Not true.

    The power company openly welcomes almost any generation on the grid. That power becomes a supplier. However the utility's most important goal is reliable power which solar notoriously difficult to provide.

    Then there is the cost of supporting the transmission of electricity. Generation companies pay that as a fee, why shouldn't individuals. As a customer, I love the power company paying me for excess generation but as a utility worker, why should the utility pay retail cost for power (when the maintenance cost is high) and they can buy it cheaper elsewhere.

    This isn't really an argument for the individual customers but for these groups (like cited in the original article) who provide you with 'low upfront costs' where you get almost little in return. Their solar panels, their federal tax incentives, generating on your rooftop for a small relief in power you buy from them. Funny how they are charging the homeowner a 'maintenance' fee already. They've been gaming the system and simply want to protect their profits.

  • by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:34AM (#45442823) Homepage

    With net-metering, the pay back to solar panel owners feeding the mains is basically the retail rate for power

    Thank you. I was unaware - and quite surprised - by this. The retail rate, of course, includes bundled into it part of the maintenance costs so technically Arizona Public's - and the Arizona Corporation Commission's - argument does have merit.

    I am surprised because I would have bet good money that the utilities would have arranged things so they bought back electricity at a lower rate than it cost them to generate the same amount of power - isn't that sort of conniving how corporations usually manage things here? - but in this case it works to the benefit of the customer.

    Looking solely at the argument present by AP and the ACC, I now understand their logic. Of course, I don't /agree/ with their argument, since it focuses primarily on the short-term benefit of the power utility and does nothing to encourage moving us towards renewable energy sources, but as that was a factor that was cleverly ignored by the lawyers, I suppose their argument - limited in scope as it is - is sound.

    Ultimately, I believe this will be taken to court. Hopefully there the larger implications of this decision will be tested and the ACC's judgement found wanting.

  • by sribe (304414) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @11:36AM (#45442843)

    Let's see, you're probably planning to spend $15,000-$20,000 after factoring in the incentives, in the hope that you'll reduce your power bills by enough to pay for that in some reasonable time. But, then, OH NO you discover that you'll have to pay $4.90/month, so of course you immediately abandon your plans, because now it's utterly hopeless that the project might ever have a decent return. Yeah, right...

  • Re:Sums it up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gman003 (1693318) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @12:16PM (#45443041)

    They're not going to keep it at $5. By this time next year it'll probably be above $40.

  • Re:Sums it up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The FNP (1177715) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @12:25PM (#45443121)

    If they have 6000 solar panel connections at $5 per month: 10 1/3 years to repay $3.7 M. (Or with 60,000 solar connections, just over 1 year.) Since the utilities have to look decades into the future in order to make sure they can be profitable then too, its a small price to pay.

    Plus, who's to say it stays at $5/mo.

    --The FNP

  • Re:Lots of costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @01:22PM (#45443433)
    You could say the same of somebody who uses less electricity for any reason - they live in a modestly-sized house, or have a gas water heater and clothes dryer, or just aren't home much - they're cheating the electric company by having a low bill! After all the fixed costs of connecting each house is the same.

    And by the same rationale, are they going to give a discount to heavy users, like people who own electric cars, or swimming pools, or grow marijuana, since the fixed costs are low relative to their high usage fees?

  • Re:what cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @02:18PM (#45443777)

    the electric company is owned by the Arizona state

    Apparently, the Arizona Public Service Company is a subsidiary [wikipedia.org] of Pinnacle West Capital Corporation not the state of Arizona. So your chain of reasoning is incomplete. This incidentally is one reason for disengaging such services from public control. It reduces the incident of conflicts of interest.

  • Re:what cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mellon (7048) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @04:00PM (#45444373) Homepage

    This is all very well and good, but does it scale? Suppose every single house and business the grid served had enough capacity to go net zero. That is, they generate their entire day's budget of power, including nighttime use, using their panels. This means that on sunny days, the power has to get stored, because by definition everybody is generating more than the total they need during daylight hours. Or else it just goes to a resistor bank or something.

    And then on cloudy days, and at night, the energy has to come either from grid-tied storage, or from non-solar generators (one would like for that to be wind, but it's not a perfect solution at the moment). And of course there is a very substantial cost to actually maintaining the grid. So in this scenario, the cost of the non-solar generation capacity and the grid has to be paid for by someone; if everybody who is connected to the grid is paying zero, or slightly less, then the money has to come from somewhere, and that's going to be the power company.

    Of course, that's one extreme; the other is no site-generated power. You can draw a graph; on the left zero net-zero sites, on the right, 100% net zero sites. For some part of the left-hand side of the chart, solar is making the power company's life easier, because demand for power is higher during the day than at night. For some part past that, solar is neutral—it doesn't particularly benefit the company, but it's not a negative either—they are able to sell the power, assuming they are paying a fair price for it. And then at some point on the right, there is no longer sufficient revenue to pay for the grid and the non-solar generating capacity needed to run all those net-zero houses when the sun isn't out either because it's cloudy or nighttime. Now the money to pay for the grid has to come from people who are net zero.

    And somewhere before that happens, to the right side of the graph, the money that pays for the non-solar generating capacity and the grid will all be coming from people who don't have solar, even though the people who have solar also benefit both from the grid and the non-solar generation.

    So when you talk about "usefulness to the grid," it's important to keep this graph in mind. At some points on the graph, that term is meaningful. At other points on the graph, it isn't. And it is absolutely unfair for users who do not have solar to subsidize users who do—in general, users without solar will be poor, and users with will be affluent, so you have a reverse subsidy.

    Andrea and I have solar on our roof, and we're happy to have it, and we get a subsidy, which apparently works out well for Green Mountain Power at the moment. I'm happy that's the case, because at the moment our excess generating capacity actually benefits other users of the grid. But when the point comes where the grid exists largely to spread out the power and provide night capacity, that will no longer be the case, and it would be shameful if I were to ask for the subsidy to continue at that point, paid for largely by people less fortunate than I am, or by running the power company that maintains the grid I depend on into the ground.

  • Re:what cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @08:26PM (#45445603) Journal

    IF you are relying on the grid for power when the sun isn't shinning you are NOT net zero

    Good grief man, at least look up the definition of "net metering" before posting on the subject. the "net" part refers to the net balance over the billing period, what it's doing at any particular moment is irrelevant, they are measuring your overall consumption/production. The sign of the net figure tells you if you get a bill or a cheque.

    According to others in Arizona you get wholesale price for the electricity you sell to the grid, but the price should not be included in the calculation of the net balance, that should be +/-kwh used per billing period. If you use Xkwh and generate Xkwh then the bill should be zero + the service cost for the grid, all retail users of the grid should pay the same universal service fee since grids do not grow by themselves.

    As for all the hand wringing about clouds. ALL forms of power generation are "unreliable", to get the advertised power from 6 coal plants you will need to build 7 of them since one will always be down for 2 months per year for regular maintenance. Also as much a solar power fluctuates, coal doesn't. So you will also need gas turbines or a hydro dam for 2-6 hours a day to service the peak periods without brownouts. Also you will be producing too much electricity during the off-peak period, you can't simply "turn down" a coal plant anymore than you can "turn up" the wind and sunshine.. Coal plants MUST deal with the daily demand curve in exactly the same way solar and wind MUST deal with it, pump water uphill into a hydro dam, build a bunch of gas turbines, or over build the wind/solar farms and spread them over geographically diverse locations..

    We have built the planets energy infrastructure (including the grid) around coal fired generation, coal has just as many problems as other forms of generation wrt matching the demand curve of a modern city. If you take into account the detrimental health and environment qualities of coal it is much more expensive than renewables.

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