A move by Arizona Public Service to install 10 MW of solar panels on 2,000 customers’ roofs is opening up a new front in U.S. utilities’ battle to limit or control distributed power generation, rather than losing sales to customers who decide to generate their own electricity.
APS fits the role of “the archetypal, moustache-twirling nemesis of clean electricity,” Mother Jones reports: it’s the company that fought to weaken the state’s net metering rule, funded two non-profits to mount a statewide ad campaign against solar, and ghost-wrote a critique of the solar industry’s business practices that some members of Congress sent to federal regulators.
But spending $28.5 million on its own panels allows a utility like APS to shift to distributed, renewable generation on its own terms.
“APS will target specific rooftops it wants to make use of—in areas where the grid needs more support, for example, or west-facing roofs, which produce the most power in the late afternoon, when demand is the highest,” McDonnell explains, citing the company’s vice president for public policy, Jeff Guldner. “APS would offer homeowners a $30 credit on their monthly bill.”
The monthly payment “essentially serves as rent for the roof, where an APS-contracted local installer will set up a solar array. APS owns the panels, can use the power however it wants, and gets to improve its clean energy portfolio without losing customers to third-party solar companies. Meanwhile, the homeowner gets a lower bill.”
More and more utilities are following the model, according to Nick Culver of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“It’s all about control,” he told MoJo. Utilities “can justify it by saying we’re going to profit from this, rather than waiting for other solar companies to take all of the market.”
“The utilities are using their vast economic resources to encourage people to go with them,” said Gabe Eisner, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Energy & Policy Institute. “What we’re seeing is a monopoly trying to retain its monopoly.”