Utilities Mount PR War on Rooftop PV

An article in Scientific American talks about the impact of cheap rooftop PV is having on utilities. Some utilities like Arizona Public Service (APS) are fighting against solar as HECO/MECO are doing:

In response APS and other utility companies across the country have launched a propaganda war against an energy source that still accounts for less than one quarter of 1 percent of U.S. electricity. In Arizona that fight became very public in 2013, as APS took on such residential solar power in a television ad campaign and mailings.

…Waking up to the looming threat, utility-funded research outfit the Edison Electric Institute released a report in January 2013 called “Disruptive Challenges” [pdf]. In essence, EEI noted that home solar, dubbed “distributed energy resources” could allow Americans to get off the grid, putting their member utilities into a death spiral of fewer and fewer electricity sales to cover more and more grid maintenance costs. That would drive up electricity prices and, as a result, drive more and more people to install rooftop solar. The parallel is drawn with the telephone monopolies of the 1970s that are, in the words of the report, “not recognizable today nor are the names of many of the players and the service they once provided (‘the plain old telephone service’).” The roughly 3,000 electric utilities that now control U.S. electricity may be as dim a memory in a decade or two.

…Spurred by projections of 500 percent growth for solar in the U.S., Arizona Public Services mounted a public relations campaign against its own obsolescence. Backed by EEI and other outside interest groups, APS spent nearly $4 million on TV, print and Internet ads depicting solar homeowners as freeloaders on the grid, and an economic burden to all the households without such solar panels. According to APS ads, such solar homes cost the rest of the utility’s customers at least $1,000 a year, what they dubbed a “cost shift” in anodyne bureaucratic terminology concealing real malice. APS therefore proposed a surcharge, or “sun tax” in the words of opponents, of as much as $100 per month that solar homeowners would pay as their fair share of grid maintenance costs. Some Arizona residents described such ads as “deceptive at best” or “false advertising,” among other, less mild epithets.

According to studies, though, rooftop PV is providing a benefit that means APS is underpaying people with rooftop solar:

In fact, utilities may be underpaying solar homeowners for the benefits of rooftop electricity, at least according to an analysis run by one of their own: Texas’s Austin Energy. The municipal utility’s analysis concluded that it should pay to solar homeowners 3 cents more than the retail electricity rate, for savings in transmission losses and the ability to delay building large, centralized power plants that can require multibillion-dollar investments. “We must fight the greedy, unscrupulous tactics of companies like APS every step of the way,” Sun City West-resident Christina Compton testified to the public commission

Read the entire article here.