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APS Proposes To Put Free Solar On 3,000 Homes Next Year

solar panels
(KJZZ file photo)

Less than a year after the contentious net-metering debate, Arizona Public Service Co. and the solar industry are at odds once again.

The controversy this time stems from APS’s proposal this summer to put rooftop solar panels on 3,000 homes, and do so at no cost to the homeowner.

Under the proposal, APS would rent a customer's roof and pay for the the installation and upkeep of a 6 megawatt-solar panel system, on average, for 20 years. In return, the customer gets a $30 credit toward their monthly electricity bill. The panels are removed at the end of the contract, or earlier if the home sells at the request of the new owner.

APS made the proposal to the Arizona Corporation Commission at the end of July and is hoping to get approval as early as this month. The issue has so far not been scheduled for a hearing.

"We need to finish construction on these 3,000 houses by the end of the year in 2015,” said Marc Romito, manager of APS's renewable energy program.

APS is in a rush because it has two different sets of state-mandated renewable-energy requirements to meet by 2015 and 2025. The proposal would add 20 megawatts of solar power to the grid, and thus help APS meet those goals almost entirely.

And because it would be free to the homeowner, Romito said far more people could go solar who might otherwise not be able to afford to.

But the proposal has been getting push-back from many in the solar industry.

Court Rich is an attorney with Scottsdale-based Rose Law Group PC who represents solar companies and is a board member of the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association. Rich said the proposal is just an attempt to get positive PR after last year’s net-metering debate, in which APS fought to raise prices for solar customers.

“APS is totally against solar unless they can own it, in which case they love it,” Rich said.

That's essentially what this proposal would do. All the solar power generated by the 3,000 homes would go straight to the grid, which APS would sell to customers for a profit.

Usually, APS loses money on homes with rooftop solar because they generate their own power.

Also, Rich said the proposal really isn’t "free."

It would actually cost at least $20 million more and produce less energy than if APS built a large solar plant west of Phoenix, which is the utility's other option also being considered.

Romito with APS said customers would see their bills increase either way, just more so under the rooftop program.

“It is more expensive and we definitely haven’t been quiet or silent on that," Romito said.

Solar advocates such as Rich also say it’s unfair for a government-regulated utility such as APS, which is inherently a monopoly in certain geographic areas, to compete in the free market. But some Arizona-based solar companies have been generally supportive. APS said it wants to partner exclusively with locally-based companies for the program.

The one thing all parties do agree on is that the end-result is the same: greater reliance on renewable energy.

Kristena Hansen covered commercial and residential real estate for the Phoenix Business Journal for the past two years, which involved a range of topics from housing trends, publicly traded home builders and real estate investment trusts (REITs), and commercial development.