State regulators eye compromise for home solar

A rooftop solar installation in Kingman.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<BR> A rooftop solar installation in Kingman.

PHOENIX (AP) - Two Arizona utility regulators are working to reach a compromise between rooftop-panel installers and big utilities.

Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little have both taken personal trips to California to meet with Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity Corp., the largest solar installer in Arizona and the country, according to The Arizona Republic.

"What I'm trying to do is heal some damage," Forese said. "These two groups have landed so many punches with each other that I'm trying to get it to the point where they can communicate on a different level."

When both regulators ran for office in 2014, rooftop-solar leasing firms expressed concern that the candidates were taking so-called "dark money" from Arizona Public Service Co. The solar leasing firms said the money was to encourage the regulators to reduce solar subsidies.

APS hasn't denied funding the candidates.

During the campaign, rooftop-leasing firms took out ads depicting Little as a Pomeranian "lap dog" to APS.

Now after a year in office, both Forese and Little say they hope to help mend the relationship between APS and SolarCity.

"You have a lot of bad blood," Forese said. "But both Doug Little and I are working to bring all parties to the table and find a solution."

SolarCity officials confirmed the meetings with Forese and Little and said the company is willing to talk.

"I'll simply say that dialogue is always better than no dialogue, and we welcome further discussion on the future of solar in Arizona," SolarCity communications director Will Craven said.

The conflict between APS and rooftop-solar installers centers a policy of net metering. Through net metering, solar customers get a credit for electricity they send the grid in excess of what they use.

Utilities see net metering as a subsidy, since they pay retail rates for power from rooftop solar panels when they could purchase wholesale power more cheaply.

Solar installers don't see it as a subsidy, but instead say it is a fair solution to address the fact that solar panels don't generate the exact amount of power a household needs.

"One of the things we need to do is figure out how to work cooperatively instead of being at loggerheads," Little said. "Solar is here to stay. It is not going anywhere. You need a way to coexist. And I've said the same thing to the solar guys. Without the grid, you don't have very much."

The commission will have meetings examining the costs and benefits of solar before June, when APS is expected to file its next rate case, which will seek changes to net metering.

APS spokesman Jim McDonald said they would be open to discussions.

"We are always open to, and often engage in, discussions with stakeholders and other parties in Corporation Commission proceedings, where we can both share our point of view, concerns we have for our customers, and seek areas of potential common ground," he said.