It has been a year since Arizona Public Service asked the Arizona Corporation Commission to approve a monthly surcharge of $50 to $100 on the utility bills of rooftop solar homeowners.
APS maintained this was "just and fair" compensation for their solar customers use of the utility infrastructure.
We all know what happened next: five months of attack ads funded by dark money that were designed to confuse ratepayers. The attack ads dismissed the benefits solar produced for the grid and exaggerated the costs solar imposed on the utility distribution system.
The ads overlooked the fact that the majority of on-site solar generation directly offsets real-time energy purchases from the utility. In this way solar energy is no different than turning off one's lights or turning up the thermostat in the summer.
At the same time, the ads exaggerated the amount of power fed back to the grid. The ads attacked all solar production as having an impact on the distribution system. The ACC's own staff estimated the amount of energy fed back onto the grid at only 20 percent of a rooftop system's production -- as opposed to the 100 percent that the ads portrayed.
In spite of all this attention -- good and bad -- the ACC never came close during the past 12 months to establishing the true value of distributed solar generation. Instead of placing a value on the benefits to the grid, the economy, our air and our health -- regulators approved a surcharge (tax) on new solar customers based largely on the bottom-lines of the utility and a handful of solar companies.
With this narrative dominating the regulatory arena for the past year -- the transformation of the utility industry and the value of solar should rank among the top campaign issues for commission candidates this summer. After all, we are electing representatives that will decide the future of the state's power sector and the role for solar, renewable and energy efficiency in that future.
But, that isn't the case.
Even with a steady chorus of calls for our commissioners to modernize the utility industry in Arizona to incorporate innovation in the generation and delivery of energy, the battle field continues to tilt in a way that protects the industry's century-old business model from the effect of competition from clean energy sources.
It is against this backdrop that dark money has emerged as a campaign issue in the race for Corporation Commission and whether electric utility policy is for sale.
The Arizona Republic's Ryan Randazzo has done a good job exposing the influx of tens of thousands of dollars of dark money into the Corporation Commission race. However, the revelations of secret funds playing a major role in the race has not generated any outrage except among the candidates themselves.
It remains to be seen if the candidates and current crop of elected officials are up to the task of overseeing the transformation of the electric utility industry. But, that is what this election should be about.
Arizona Solar Center
Question: What are the issues you would like to see the candidates for Corporation Commission address during the campaign?