Deal ends SolarCity, APS dispute--for now

Posted at 10:00 PM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 01:00:55-04
A deal between the nation's largest solar company and Arizona's biggest utility announced Thursday means competing measures asking voters about how to treat rooftop solar power are being withdrawn.
The agreement between SolarCity and Arizona Public Service Co. puts an end to an increasingly public fight pitting the utility against solar companies, for now.
The two sides agreed to mediation over how solar customers are paid for the power they produce on their rooftops. Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers negotiated with the two sides and the governor's office will participate in the talks. The hope is that other utilities and solar firms will eventually sign on.
The deal was announced by Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, less than an hour after Republicans in the Arizona Senate took steps to send Arizona voters measures mandating separate rates for rooftop solar users and regulating solar leasing companies as utilities. That was in response to a SolarCity-backed citizens' initiative mandating that utilities pay homeowners with rooftop solar panels the full retail price for power they send back to the grid.
"These actions are intended to allow for more constructive discussion between SolarCity and Arizona electric utilities, including APS," Lesko said in announcing the deal.
Lesko and Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, crafted the voter referrals with help from APS after a citizens' initiative was filed earlier this month. That effort required a massive signature-gathering effort, but the legislative referral only needed House and Senate approval to be placed on the ballot.
Kris Mayes, the former Arizona Corporation Commissioner who was chairing the citizens' initiative, said the initiative had collected more than 40,000 signatures in less than two weeks. It needed 225,000 by July 7 to get on the ballot.
"The people of Arizona resoundingly support solar," Mayes said. "And I think that's why the governor's office decided to show some leadership in this process and help these parties along."
Mayes said she believes an agreement between the two sides "can be a model for the rest of the country."
"This is a big deal," Mayes said. "The fact that a large utility like APS and the nation's largest solar company, SolarCity, are coming together to have these negotiations is almost without precedent."
Hal Pittman, an APS spokesman, thanked the governor and senators for helping reach a deal that withdraws the ballot measure.
"We're open to engaging in constructive dialogue with SolarCity that benefits all Arizonans," Pittman said in a statement. "Our goal, as we've stated, has always been to ensure fair energy policy for the state at affordable pricing for all of our customers, and sustainable solar for the long term."
Mayes pointed to an agreement reached earlier this month between New York utilities and solar companies as a path to a permanent solution. That deal set up a transition from current models that pay rooftop solar customers full retail price for power they send back to the grid while keeping incentives in place.
The fight began more than two years ago when utilities began pushing added fees for rooftop solar customers and preparing rate cases before state regulators seeking to cut the amount solar customers are paid. The rooftop solar industry pushed back, saying utilities were trying to kill the industry to protect their profit.