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Tucson Solar Rate Case Could Have Big Implications For Arizona Industry

solar panels on a roof
(Photo by Martin Abegglen - CC BY 2.0)
Arizona earns one of the top spots in rooftop solar energy because of its sunny skies and incentives offered by utility companies.

Arizona power companies, solar supporters and customers are holding their breath as the first in a series of rate cases kicks off this week. While the Tucson-based UNS Electric is a small utility, what regulators decide could have big implications.

About 1,300 UNS customers have solar panels hooked up to the grid, but just about everyone with a stake in the solar industry has their hands in this case. The utility is proposing to essentially cut in half what solar customers are reimbursed for the excess power they generate, while also adding a new charge for everyone. This so-called "demand charge" will be tied to the peak hour when a customer uses the most energy.

UNS spokesperson Joseph Barrios said this will incentivize customers to reexamine their energy use. 

"Well, if I change how I consume energy, maybe, I don’t turn on all my appliances as soon as I get home. That lowers their demand and in the long run lowers their costs and our costs,” Barrios said.

Not so, according to Court Rich with The Alliance For Solar Choice.

“It is the most anti-consumer way to charge for power,” he said.

“It’s hopelessly complicated, impossible to react to and there’s a reason utilities don’t have demand charges for residential customers, and solar customers are no different,” Rich said.

Under the UNS proposal, the average customer would pay about $6.50 more a month.

The case, however, is expected to set a precedent for other rate decisions, including for the state’s largest utility provider Arizona Public Service.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.