Arizona's solar future is bright
The sun in Yuma shines about 90 percent of the time – making our city one of the sunniest in the United States. As a resident of Yuma, it makes me hot just thinking about stepping outside during the summer. But as an employee of APS, I get excited thinking about the energy the sun can generate. And we’re certainly taking advantage.
More than 8,700 homes in Yuma receive electricity from the Foothills Solar Plant, which is APS’s fifth and largest solar facility as part of our AZ Sun program; likewise, the Hyder I solar plant in east Yuma County, completed last year, provides electricity to more than 3,500 homes. Another solar plant in Hyder is expected to open in late 2013.
Our investment in these solar projects will have an economic impact of $10 million to $20 million in Yuma and surrounding areas, much of which will help fund public education.
Solar energy is benefitting schools across Arizona in another big way, as APS and Arizona schools have recently hit a major milestone: more than 100 megawatts of clean, solar energy has been installed or is under construction on more than 300 schools and 70 participating school districts across the state.
In fact, Kofa High and Vista South High both have solar projects currently under development through the APS-owned portion of the Schools and Government Program, in which APS designs, builds, operates and maintains photovoltaic systems on a school’s property at no cost to the school district. APS is able to deploy more renewable energy, and the schools are able to incorporate solar power into their teaching curriculum. The students benefit by learning firsthand about the technology and the importance of taking advantage of Arizona’s constant sunshine. It is one of many programs that help to bring renewable energy to our customers and part of APS’s plan to help make Arizona the solar capital of America.
Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the message. A few small but vocal groups have claimed that APS has been trying to destroy solar in Arizona. This couldn’t be more wrong.
With as much sunshine as we enjoy here – not just in Yuma, but across the state – how can we not embrace solar? Solar power can and should have a bright and long future in Arizona, a future of rapidly increasing adoption of solar power by homeowners. To do that, though, it’s critical that we have a system in place to foster and sustain the growth of solar for everyone while at the same time maintaining reliable electric service.
Following a series of public meetings, APS has submitted a recommendation to the Arizona Corporation Commission that would update the way customers are compensated for rooftop solar, which we believe is fair and will ensure solar continues to flourish.
The current policy basically allows for rooftop solar customers to use the electrical grid – the poles, wires, substations, etc. – for free. The costs of maintaining the grid are then shifted to non-solar customers.
All customers – solar and non-solar – depend on the electric grid around the clock. Solar customers need it at night, when it rains, on hot days when they are using more than they are producing, and to send back excess electricity when their usage is low. As more people install solar on their homes, it becomes more important that everyone who uses the grid helps cover the costs of keeping it operating at all times.
APS has offered two potential approaches for the ACC to consider:
• One, called the “Net Metering” option, continues the current practice of net metering and asks future rooftop solar customers to pay a fair price for their use of the grid, based on how much power they use.
• The second, called the “Bill Credit” option, gives future rooftop customers a bill credit for the electricity they generate, at a price set by the ACC and based on the rate APS pays other generators for power.
Customers who have already made the choice to install rooftop solar will be “grandfathered” under the current rules for 20 years.
At the same time, we voiced our support to increase the cash incentive for future customers who want the choice of rooftop solar. Incentives decrease the up-front cost of installation, or allow customers to make a bigger down payment on a lease. This bigger down payment translates into a lower monthly lease payment, which can significantly offset what they would pay for their use of the grid. These incentives will continue to make solar an affordable option for more customers.
Solar power is vital to the future of Arizona and the nation. It promotes energy independence, fuel diversity and job creation. It gives customers important choices. Our plan is a fair approach that allows solar to flourish for all Arizonans for the long term and protects the reliable electrical service we all use every day.
Phil Smithers is the APS Manager of Energy Delivery for Southwest Arizona.