Guest Opinion: Demand-based rate strategy makes sense

Media coverage of the electricity rate case filed by UniSource Energy Services (UES) has promoted dire predictions from California-based rooftop solar leasing companies that oppose the proposal. We encourage every utility customer to consider the facts of the UES case.

UES has proposed residential rates that reflect both total energy use and peak energy use, or “demand.” This makes sense because utility costs are driven by the need to satisfy customers’ energy demands during peak periods. Arizona business owners have been paying demand-based rates for years and have found them to be fair, simple and easy to use. They include a basic service fee, a relatively low usage-based charge and a demand charge that’s based on their highest monthly power use.

Critics claim demand rates are “too confusing.” As smart thermostats and app technology grow ever smarter, this claim falls short. Demand rates give consumers a new way to save money by managing their use of electric appliances during peak usage periods. Smart technology can help customers take advantage of demand rates to lower their bills significantly. At the same time, reducing energy usage during peak times helps ensure the stability of the power grid statewide.

Because demand charges would be offset by lower energy use charges, most residential customers would see little impact from the proposed change. In fact, the UES proposal protects customers by reducing the generous subsidies handed to rooftop leasing companies at the expense of the 98 percent of consumers who don’t have solar. That’s why we’re hearing the loud voice of protest from the solar industry’s PR machine. UES’s proposal will create a sustainable free market for clean energy and send the right price signals to encourage future energy innovation. That’s important to every Arizona business. All of us want our state to stay at the forefront of the clean energy movement and to continue to create jobs in that growing sector.

Unfortunately, jobs have become a political pawn for the rooftop leasing companies. In Nevada, these companies fired their own workers and fled the state as punishment after policy changes took the brunt of subsidy payments off the backs of non-solar customers. They’ve threatened the same punitive behavior in our state. This “take our toys and go home” approach will hurt Arizona families and our economy. As reputable case studies and testimony explain in detail, rooftop leasing companies can continue to make ample profit under a demand rate structure should they elect to compromise, rather than litigate and flee to other states where generous profits are still to be had on the backs of non-solar customers.

Using employees’ paychecks as a bargaining chip is wrong. So is intentionally disrupting the businesses of local installers – the very people the California-based national giants once claimed they wanted to help.

Arizona needs an energy policy that encourages a broad array of technologies and the highest degree of freedom and fairness for all power users. The more control consumers have – absent subsidies paid by the vast majority of power users to fund technology for the few – the better off our state will be. To hear the rooftop solar leasing companies tell it, you would think the goal of energy policy should be whatever helps them sell the most systems at the largest profit.

We take a broader view. We sincerely hope the Arizona Corporation Commission will take that broader view as well.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Lea Marquez Peterson is the president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


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