Arizona Public Service Co. asks regulators to raise grid access fee for new solar customers

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PHOENIX — Arizona's largest electricity utility is proposing a rate increase for new solar customers.

Arizona Public Service Co. asked the Arizona Corporation Commission on Thursday to raise APS' current $5 monthly "grid access charge" approved in 2013 for new solar customers to $21.

Critics said the proposal would slam the industry by reducing the incentive for installing solar panels, while APS said it would help level the playing field for all customers connected to the grid, including those who now don't help pay for maintaining the grid.

"If you're a homeowner with solar, you're still on the grid," Marc Romito, APS' manager of renewable energy. "You're still depending on the grid 24/7, 365. In today's rate structure, other customers who aren't on solar end up picking up the tab."

APS called the proposal an interim step that "would not fully resolve the cost shift" to non-solar customers.

New solar customers could avoid the fees if they go on a rate plan that includes a demand charge, which is based on the highest use of electricity during peak hours.

If approved, the new APS fees would take effect in August. The proposed change would not affect current solar customers.

The Arizona Corporation Commission said in 2013 that $21 was a reasonable fee, but it settled on the current $5 fee as a compromise. The company said it is now asking the commission to implement its 2013 plan.

A solar advocacy group said APS' desire for a higher fee, if implemented, would reduce solar installations in the utility's territory.

"Rooftop solar power is under siege from utilities, through utility-backed anti-solar legislation and harmful rate hikes designed to drive the popular energy choice from Arizona," the group, Tell Utilities Solar Won't be Killed, said in a news release.

The head of the state Residential Utility Consumer office, an agency that advocates on behalf of residential customers, said his initial reaction to APS' proposal is that it's reasonable because the consumer office's staff itself previously proposed a $21 fee phased in over several years.

"I think those numbers are probably still pretty accurate, and numbers that we obviously could live with," consumer office Director David Tenney said.

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