Solar companies say new law will increase costs and wait times

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  • SB 1417 prohibits installation of solar panels until utility approves application for grid connection
  • Governor Doug Ducey signed the bill in late March, sparking outcry from solar companies in Arizona
  • Solar companies say utilities, such as APS, are trying to dissuade homeowners from installing solar panels

Arizona solar companies are appalled that Governor Doug Ducey has signed a bill that will allow utilities such as Arizona Public Service Co. to make homeowners wait up to two months before they can install solar panels.

Many solar customers are already frustrated with the huge backlog of APS solar systems that have not yet been approved to send power to the grid; however, the utility claims that it will help address what is causing the waits.

Senate Bill 1417 prohibits solar companies from installing solar panels until the owner’s utility has approved a request to connect to the grid, unless the utility takes longer than 60 days. It also requires a variety of financial details in solar contracts.

“When it comes to adjustments to consumer homes, more information and disclosure is valuable,” read a statement from Ducey’s office after the governor signed the legislation in late March. “This bill, passed with broad bipartisan support, reasonably allows that.”

An APS official said legislation was needed because solar installers are flooding the utility with flawed applications, creating extra work for the company and slowing down the installation process for other customers.

“This legislation will be very helpful,” said Marc Romito, APS Renewable Energy Program Manager. “It will be an important step in the right direction.”

But solar installers argued they were already heavily regulated and the new legislation was unnecessary.

“Our position throughout the legislative session was that it was inconsistent with the governor’s moratorium on new regulations,” said Kim Sanders, director of public policy for Sunrun Inc., referring to Ducey’s executive order in January. 2015 putting an end to the development of regulatory rules. .

“The legislation will increase red tape and cost,” she said, adding that APS supported the bill simply to make it more difficult for customers to install solar power.

“It will be very telling to see if the utility uses the full 60 days most of the time,” she said.

APS in 2015 saw a 20% increase in solar panel installations compared to 2014. Last year, 9,335 APS customers installed solar panels, compared to 7,796 in 2014.

While APS struggles to keep up with the number of solar applications, Romito said solar installers have exacerbated the situation by frequently building solar panels before applying to interconnect with APS. This means that any issues must be resolved while the customer waits to turn on their power panels.

“If they apply before they build, we won’t have a system on their roof for a few months before we know it,” he said.

He said with a team of 18 people working on applications, up from six a year ago, APS has reduced the backlog to about two months. In February, the backlog was 90 days.

“We are currently working on the January applications,” he said. “We honestly want to interconnect them as quickly as possible.”

Romito said that 66% of applications submitted to APS are deficient in some way. He said the goal was to work with installers to reduce that percentage to 10%.

“It will make this whole problem go away,” he said.

Brandon Cheshire, founder of SunHarvest Solar, said the bill hurts Arizona businesses.

“It cuffs us further and forces us to wait without incentivizing the public service to become more efficient,” he said. “It eliminates the inefficiencies of large national leasing companies, but it penalizes local companies doing business here and imposes onerous restrictions on them.”

Some customers have also said they believe APS is intentionally dragging its feet to prevent them from generating their own electricity and financially harming solar leasing companies, which cannot start collecting payments until the solar panels fail. not start producing electricity.

Phoenix resident Mike Gattorna had his panels installed in March by SolarCity. Gattorna said SolarCity estimates it will take 14 weeks or more before APS can install a meter that allows the panels to light up. In the meantime, he relies on them for all his energy, and SolarCity derives no revenue from the system he installed on his roof.

“It’s unconscionable,” said Gattorna, who previously worked for APS.

“The backlog is there because they won’t hire the meter adjusters to take care of the backlog,” he said.

The bill also requires clearer information about past utility rates and how they are expected to increase over time. Solar companies often promote their products with estimates of expected utility rate increases, promising savings from solar power versus maintaining basic utility service.

And the bill requires solar companies to disclose things like the number and amount of payments to be made during the term of solar leases.

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