Friday, August 21, 2015

The Republic/azcentral suckered by Corporation Commission vote

If you have been following this story, you know that the AZ Corporation Commission voted to hold a hearing on the APS request for a levy on rooftop solar installations. They could have granted the APS request, granted, and they did not. but they could have voted to roll the request into the scheduled June 2016 overall rate hearing that was recommended by former commissioners but they did not. APS was most pleased. The story on the vote from azcentral.com is here and my blog about it is here.

From my blog and the azcentral.com story about that vote:

Utility regulators voted Tuesday to set hearings that could lead to a vote on higher fees for Arizona Public Service Co. customers who install solar, but only after an analysis of the costs and benefits of rooftop panels.

Commissioners Bob Stump and Tom Forese voted with Little. Commissioners Susan Bitter Smith and Bob Burns opposed the measure.

So those three commissioners voting in favor of a separate "analysis" are those most tainted by dark money thought to come from APS in the last election.

What does The Republic/azcentral.com editorial board think about that vote? Here is what they had to say.

They lead with the headline: "Our View: Maybe these commissioners can't be bought". OK, what's the evidence?

APS asked the commission to raise a fee on its rooftop-solar customers to an average $21 per customer, a four-fold increase from the current average of $5.

The utility wanted that approval immediately. Solar supporters wanted the issue considered in a full-blown rate hearing, which would open the entirety of the utility’s financial records. The next one is scheduled for June 2016.

Instead, the commission voted to isolate solar-customer fees as a stand-alone issue and consider the costs and benefits of solar panels apart from APS’s other rates. The commissioners insist there are no pre-ordained conclusions. The facts will guide their vote, they say, and the hearings will be as long as they take.

There are merits to focusing on solar-customer fees. A full-blown utility rate case is a behemoth of data and sworn testimony. Even an issue as vital to the future of the energy industry as solar theoretically could get swamped in corporate financial numbers.

So the case against waiting for a "full-blown utility rate case" is that we have to suffer "data"? We have to look at "numbers"? They have a point. The average citizen's eyes cross when they have to add and subtract.

The debate is over rooftop solar’s net effect on the utility’s bottom line. Does it add value? Solar proponents argue it does. Or do solar customers, who are still connected to the traditional grid, add costs to non-solar customers?

You only find the bottom line at the bottom of everything else. It takes a full rate case to figure that out.

Still, as long as all the data gets put on the table, an open-ended hearing on rooftop solar may have value.

But by definition, "all the data" will NOT be on the table.

On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners backed away from the edge. They should have backed up further. But by refusing to give APS, widely believed to be the benefactor of two of the commissioners during the 2014 elections, exactly what it wanted, the commission asserted a much-needed measure of independence.

Remember exactly which three commissioners voted that way? Remember APS's pleased response?

Its reputation as an independent regulatory commission could have been devastated. Its choice was that big.

Agreed, the choice was that big. But the Commission's reputation is already in the tank.

The commissioners didn’t stepped (sic) over the precipice. Not yet.

Yes, they did. And "not yet"? Meaning the Editorial Board expects further cow-towing to APS from this Commission?

Maybe the Commission can jump on the move to rebrand crAZy. The first step is to buy a lot of lipstick. The pig needs it.

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