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Tucson Solar Program Installs Panels In Exchange For Fixed-Rate Power Bill

Tucson Electric Power has recently started implementing a plan approved late last year, called the TEP Residential Solar Program.

The utility is contracting with solar installers to put systems on the roofs of customers who sign up. There’s a one-time fee to set it up, and TEP owns and maintains the systems after that. In exchange for use of their rooftop, the customer will pay a fixed electricity bill for up to 25 years. TEP Spokesman Joseph Barrios said the utility will be able to increase its solar energy portfolio, and customers get another way to go solar.

"One of the reasons we were interested is because we think by strategically deploying these rooftop systems and feeding the power that they generate into the grid, we can actually improve reliability, particularly during the summer and during those times when demand is at its highest," he said.

The energy generated would not go to the ratepayer on whose roof the system is, but rather back into the grid. The issue of rooftop solar has become a contentious one, with some in the industry accusing utilities of trying to kill it. But Barrios said TEP thinks there’s a better way.

"I think it helps to expand the discussion, and it shows that by thinking creatively, and by trying to offer new and innovative options, there may be new ways to address those concerns," he said.

Barrios said there are around 20 TEP customers who’ve had solar systems installed on their roofs so far. He expects the utility will have about 500 takers by the end of the year. But some aren't so sure TEP’s plan will address the concerns over net metering programs.

Troy Rule is faculty director of the Program on Law and Sustainability, at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.