Revelations that it allegedly bribed public officials has forced Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS) to retreat from its intended hike of monthly fees for rooftop solar users. The allegations made in court filed complaints that say two Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) commissioners who regulate utilities in the State benefited from $3.2 million in secret campaign donations to independent groups by APS.
The filings of bias also cite another commissioner for inappropriate public comments about rooftop solar users, and two others of bias based on lobbying activities prior to their election in 2012.
The ACC is an elected body that acts as referee for the State’s power markets, which has been embroiled in a dispute over whether or not to eliminate “net metering” policies that pay rooftop solar users retail prices for the surplus power that their panels export to the grid. APS has claimed that as solar customers rely heavily on the grid but under net metering pay little or nothing to maintain, they should pay more in fees. Solar power advocates argue rooftop solar benefits the grid as it reduces fossil fuel consumption and reliance on distant power plants. They claim as APR owns nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants, any fees it charges for rooftop solar is unfair competition.
In August when ACC commissioners overruled ACC staff who were calling for a deferment on proposed fees, San Francisco-based solar installer Sunrun and two former ACC commissioners filed the court challenges alleging bias.
Allegations of APS illegal campaign contributions have been circulating in the media for a year now. Although APS acknowledges it is “politically active”, it refuses to confirm or deny the allegations.
Newspaper reports say that earlier this year an organization tracking campaign finance contributions found that a foundation led by a former APS CEO and chairman which usually supports Arizona State University had inexplicably given $100,000 to a “shadowy nonprofit” called Save Our Future Now. In 2014, that organization purchased $2.4 million of TV airtime to attack pro-solar ACC candidates.