Arizona utility introduces residential solar program

A utility in southern Arizona is attempting to head off the proliferation of private solar leasing rooftops and exercise control over where installations occur by installing its own systems on customers’ houses.

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) has announced it will launch a Residential Solar Program in the spring for 500-600 of its 414,000 customers.

Under the terms of the program, customers will pay a one-off $250 administration fee to join and TEP – in partnership with ‘local solar companies’ – will install and maintain household systems.

TEP will retain ownership of the systems and offer households a fixed monthly bill, based on their historical energy use at the point of installation, for the lifetime of the system, up to 25 years.

The utility is marketing the scheme as a chance for customers to hedge against future energy price rises, although with TEP reducing its coal generation by 30% up to 2020 in favor of natural gas, as well as renewables and energy efficiency, and with the price of oil plunging there may be cynicism over the timing of the move.

Solar leasing companies opposed plan

A report about the scheme run by the Businesswire newswire yesterday (Thursday) pointed out the scheme had been opposed by ‘out-of-state’ solar leasing companies before being approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).

Although a Q&A section about the new scheme on the TEP website states all residential customers will be eligible for the scheme, the utility adds it will exercise the option of choosing the optimal locations for its solar systems, in a move which will permit it to mitigate the costs to its grid infrastructure.

The utility says its program will open up solar to more customers as people will not be denied access to the scheme because of their credit rating, as they may be with private leasing companies.

The biggest question mark over the scheme is likely to be the rider that, although TEP will not change the monthly energy bill – unless annual energy use changes by more than 15% – ACC may do so in future, with customers offered the option of opting out of the scheme at that point.