APS and First Solar

First Solar sides with APS, encourages slashing net metering

First Solar, one of the world’s largest producers of utility scale solar power plants announced this week that they side with APS in their proposal to slash net metering for residential customers.

First Solar has taken a position that should surprise no one. They refer to themselves as a “Vertically Integrated Utility-Scale PV Power Solutions Provider”. In other words, First Solar’s success is very dependent on their relationship with utilities like APS. This goes for any utility scale energy provider including coal and natural gas power plant providers.

The more solar that is produced on utility customers’ rooftops, the less utilities will buy from utility scale power plants of any type, including those furnished with First Solar panels. Although it is vital for First Solar that we keep and hopefully increase our Renewable Energy Standards locally, nationally, and internationally, it is disadvantageous to them that we preserve our rooftop energy policies such as net metering or even residential federal and state tax credits.

From a business and even environmental standpoint, it is hard to fault them for this. They are developing a strategy to further the adoption of clean solar in a way that makes most sense for their business/product, but the problem is this does not address the outdated energy paradigm. As you know, utilities have made it no secret that they are losing control of a business model that has been wildly successful for many decades. People and businesses are realizing the power of owning their own power production, and this is no fad. Yes, subsidies have gotten us here just as with any groundbreaking technology that has transitioned to mainstream, and such subsidies have and will continue to fade away over time.

It is natural to experience pushback from comfortable utilities experiencing their first taste of discomfort. I feel there has not been an adequate open discussion as to whether rooftop solar is or is not competing with utility scale solutions on a level playing field as First Solar has stated in their comments.

I am constantly frustrated with the comment regarding net metering’s “unanticipated burden on utilities” as is mentioned in the First Solar statement. Net metering was put in place because everyone decided together that it was a fair and necessary way to compensate a utility’s solar customers. Utilities, however, claim that they gave the gift of net metering to encourage the adoption of rooftop solar in an effort to quickly reach their Renewable Energy Standard requirement. If that is true, then net metering has accomplished exactly the burden that they’d hoped and planned for.

After establishing net metering as a policy resulting in an unanticipated utility burden, First Solar goes on to describe the same policy as having “successfully facilitated the growth and maturation of solar in Arizona”. Our successful policies have created an environment whereby homeowners and business owners can install their own homegrown power and offset their costs paid to utilities.

First Solar claims that their solar facilities meet the environmental objectives we all care about while at the same time providing power for the lowest cost per kilowatt hour available. No one would ever disagree, but this is a completely different discussion. No one is arguing whether installing hundreds of thousands of solar panels all at once is a better bang for the buck than placing 25 on top of a single home.

The conversation we are having now is whether or not we are going to let a utility monopoly disempower their customers who today can install their own affordable homegrown power.

First Solar says that while APS’s net metering proposals have been criticized as anti-solar, they feel the opposite is true. But here is the real truth: First Solar has cited several examples of their unmatched utility scale solar success, and all of this has taken place while our current net metering policies have existed. Keep doing what you’re doing First Solar, but don’t deprive our entire population to further your own business interests.

First Solar, like APS, would like to eliminate rooftop solar to better capitalize on the profit potential of utility scale solar. Like I said before, I do not fault First Solar for having a desire to achieve solar success, but they have shown us this is perfectly possible with current policies.

First Solar and APS want to maintain an energy monopoly, a stronghold discouraging the sale of power from anyone other than the utility.  APS claims they adopted net metering to meet our Renewable Energy Standard, but now that they have found a way to capitalize on clean energy while supporting the ages old utility paradigm, they want to take it all away.

The path to a sustainable clean energy future is one where people have a choice. If you’re going to take that choice away, the reason had better not be because you want to make all the money associated with the production of power for yourself. First Solar has made it clear that since power can be produced most cheaply on a larger scale, “the next phase of solar policy should be to maximize the solar benefit per dollar spent”. Thus, they feel energy policy should favor them.

APS feels the same way, but at least they cleverly crafted a bunch of rhetoric about non-solar customers being wrongfully ravaged by rooftop solar. Even the APS public relations folks aren’t daft enough to state they simply want all the money for themselves.