APS Responds to TASC Ad

On February 19, 2015, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) placed an ad (at right) in the Arizona Republic. Let's take a closer look at some of the ad's claims.

TASC AZ Republic Ad1. These utilities are highly-subsidized monopolies with guaranteed rates of return. They don’t want their customers to buy less power from them.

On the contrary, APS was a leader in solar development long before TASC existed.  Our diverse generation portfolio includes more than 800 megawatts of solar power (enough for 200,000 homes), and we are modernizing the electricity grid to support even more solar in the future.  TASC’s habit of continually labeling everyone who disagrees with them as trying to “kill solar” or “tax the sun” does nothing to contribute to sound energy policy for Arizona.  

As Arizona Republic editorial writer Bob Robb noted recently, the rooftop solar industry “is conducting political attack campaigns against its perceived opponents, the incumbent utilities, disparaging their character and trying to damage their reputations.”  This ad is part of that campaign.

2. These utilities are seeking to tax and regulate us out of Arizona.

It’s important to be clear about who “us” is in this case.  TASC represents a very narrow sector of the solar industry – companies, mostly California based, that are principally in the business of leasing rooftop solar systems to residential customers.  In a growing industry that boasts thousands of companies, TASC has exactly seven members.  APS has worked for years to foster strong relationships with Arizona-based installers and the broader solar industry in an effort to help make the industry more sustainable. The growth of renewable energy on our system could not have happened without this extensive stakeholder engagement.

3.  In 2013, APS spent $4 million on a media campaign demonizing its solar ratepayers. APS convinced the Arizona Corporation Commission to impose a state-sanctioned tax on rooftop solar.

We did run ads in 2013, but they did not “demonize” anyone and the alleged $4 million budget is apparently just a made-up number.  Our ads promoted Arizona’s solar leadership and our company’s support for solar.  You can see examples of our ads here, here, here, here and here.
 
This charge is particularly ironic given the steady stream of attack ads from TASC and its sister organization TUSK.  Examples of those ads can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

4.  In 2013, and 2014, APS worked to impose new property taxes on rooftop solar, a matter now in the courts.

Property taxes on rooftop solar are not new; we’ve been paying them for years.  TASC members want to change Arizona law to avoid paying the tax, or pass the tax along to their customers. They inaccurately attempt to blame APS for an objective ruling by the Arizona Department of Revenue that simply affirmed existing law – homeowners are exempt from property taxes on rooftop solar they own; APS and TASC members are not.

5.  In 2014, APS and TEP announced plans to provide rooftop solar, subsidized by all ratepayers, leveraging their monopoly power to drive private competitors away.

APS’s rooftop solar program, hailed nationally as “innovative” and a “new model for solar,” gives customers another simple option to go solar, and makes rooftop solar available to those who previously couldn’t afford it. The new program also enables important research to plan for the future growth of rooftop solar, and furthers Arizona’s and APS’s solar leadership. Arizona-based solar installers will build the systems, in fact strengthening the Arizona solar market.

6.  Right now, these monopolies are backing legislation, SB 1465, the sole purpose of which is to regulate our solar industry out of the state, killing the jobs that have helped lift Arizona out of the recession and created opportunities for veterans. But the bill, the first of its kind in the country, does nothing but create unneeded and over-burdensome regulations. If it passes, it will drive more capital and cost-savings out of the state.

Senate Bill 1465, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Lesko, enhances consumer protections for customers who are considering installing rooftop solar.  In her words, “This is not a pro or con solar issue; this is a consumer protection issue.  It is my job to help protect my constituents, especially the senior citizens in my community and throughout the state.” 
 
The “unnecessary and over-burdensome” regulations include such requirements as a minimum 10-point font for contracts, filling in blank spaces, and including the price and total cost of the system.  Most solar installers are reputable and reliable, but there is good reason to be concerned about the deceptive marketing practices of some in the industry, as indicated by the recent case of fraud by a rooftop solar installer.
 
We don’t understand how stronger consumer protections can put any legitimate enterprise out of business. 

7.  It’s hard to understand why a state with such great solar resources, a Governor who supports innovation and business-friendly policy, and leaders who typically pride themselves as free market thinkers has become so inhospitable despite overwhelming support.

Here’s something we can agree on: Arizona does have great solar resources and a governor committed to revitalizing our economy.  In fact, Arizona is first in the nation in solar per capita. In 2014, a record number of APS customers installed solar, and solar jobs in Arizona increased.
 
In our view, the bigger threat to Arizona’s reputation as being open for business is the damage done by TASC’s continued mischaracterization of Arizona’s solar leadership and its attacks on our elected officials, as seen here, here and here.

8.  Indeed, one company rejected a new 1,000 employee headquarters for Arizona due to the hostile environment.

It isn’t clear what company TASC refers to here, but if they are referring to Tesla, we will simply note that the CEO of Tesla is also the chairman of solar leasing company SolarCity, which funds TASC.

9.  Ask yourself; is an arbitrary guaranteed rate of return for utilities of nearly 10% really more important than ongoing energy innovation, security, and the health of our economy?

If this were really the question, we might agree.  But the real question is how to make solar energy thrive in Arizona for the long term and ensure reliable service for all customers.   The way our customers use energy is changing.  We need a modern, reliable grid that enables more renewable energy and more innovation, and a pricing model that reflects the different way customers use the grid today.  Customers who are off the grid shouldn’t pay for it; but customers who rely on the grid should pay a fair price for that use. 
 
And by the way, there is no such thing as a “guaranteed rate of return for utilities.”  It simply doesn’t exist.

10.  We seek nothing more than a stable business environment to do what we do best: innovate.

TASC seeks to prevent stronger protections for consumers against deceptive marketing practices, create exemptions from property taxes and protect policies and subsidies that benefit the businesses of their members.  They are entitled to those views, of course – although we disagree on all of them.  However, Arizona would be much better served if TASC would address the substance of these issues, such as explaining to the public why they feel basic consumer protections are a bad thing, instead of taking out attack ads on those who disagree with them.
Interested readers can learn more about the issues at the links below:

11.  It need not be a choice between past and future, or between utility returns and solar savings. Arizona can lead the way, but it isn’t leading now.

Arizona IS leading the way: in solar, reliability, innovation, customer service, affordable rates and forward-thinking renewable energy policy. APS has been at the forefront of the solar movement in our state since the 1950s. Arizona’s energy future is bright, and we’re happy to be a part of it.