The fight over net metering played out on the municipal level on Monday night when the Cave Creek Town Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution recommending the Arizona Corporation Commission maintain the current net metering policy.
The amendment was proposed by Vice Mayor Adam Trenk, a lawyer who has practiced with the Rose Law Group for several years.
The resolution was intended as guidance before the APS’s plan was announced. However, APS filed their plans with the Corporation Commission earlier that day, making this instead a direct comment to their proposal.
Vice Mayor Trenk said he proposed the resolution to support the solar and renewable energy industry.
“APS is regulated monopoly, the sole provider of electricity in their service area,” Trenk commented. He said changing net metering would “put the squeeze on homeowners, small business owners, and people who want to invest in their own energy independence.”
He contends that APS adding a demand charge or paying customers below-market rates for the power they generate would, in his mind, “create state-sanctioned, consumer-funded, corporate welfare. It would perpetuate their monopoly and stymie innovation.”
The public weighed in, both in favor and against the resolution.
Cory Garrison, an entrepreneur and solar installer, advocated for opening up the market for solar energy. He asserted that utility solar represents a special interest that has strangle hold on his industry, attempting to eliminate any resemblance of a level playing field.
Garrison went on to state this will “not only further secure their monopoly [status], but it affects consumers with a de facto use tax.”
He urged the councilors to pass the resolution to demonstrate they “believe in small business, innovation, and the free market.”
Greg Bernasky, an APS manager and Cave Creek citizen, spoke against the resolution.
He argued that APS does support solar in their territory, currently with 18,000 net metering customers and 300 in Cave Creek.
He went on to point out “APS’s proposal addresses the long-term sustainability of solar.” And he emphasized that existing customers would not be impacted. APS’s current proposal would grandfather solar systems that are installed by October 15th onto the original net metering scheme, with installations past that date being subject to the new regulation.
The main point Bernasky made was one of fairness. After six months of technical conferences, APS has come to the conclusion that solar customers avoid paying $1000 annually, shifting these costs to non-solar ratepayers.
When asked about the savings under current and future plans, he said current solar customers can offset approximately 70% of their bill through credits from net metering. The new plans would allow customers to save somewhere between 20-40%, depending on how the plan is implemented.
As an attempt to appease future solar customers, APS has suggested that incentives or subsidies could be offered directly to net metering customers to afford similar savings. This appears to produce the exact same problem of non-solar customers subsidizing solar customers; this issues was not addressed by Bernasky or the Town Council.
When the vote was finally cast, all council members supported the resolution. One member even remarked that he doesn’t have solar, and that he’s paying more than his fair share, but he supports it anyway. At no point in the discussion was the Crossborder Energy study touting the millions in dollars of benefits net metering provides to APS mentioned; one wonders if that information may have changed his outlook.
Before the vote, Trenk summed up the resolution by saying “In Cave Creek, we’re all about rugged individualism; we should support the free market and the little guy.” In this town, solar energy has become a statement of personal choice and energy self-reliance, a statement that resonated with unanimous approval.