Conservation advocates in Tucson asked everyone to turn off their lights Wednesday at 8:30 PM – to protest Tucson Electric Power’s rate case, which critics say will make rooftop solar less affordable. TEP is asking the Arizona Corporation Commission to approve a $25-30 monthly fee for new solar customers and a reduction in the amount TEP has to pay customers who sell electricity back to the grid.
Robert Bulechek, an energy efficiency consultant and member of the Pima Association of Government’s Solar Partnership, says TEP is all for solar power as long as it comes from their own solar arrays.
“And this is not a fight about solar, it’s a fight about who gets to own it,” he explains. “And so the utility wants to be the person who gets to build the solar, and I’m an advocate for everybody having that right.”
TEP argues that solar customers should contribute more to maintain the grid since they buy less power but still use the grid. Advocates argue that solar customers contribute to the energy infrastructure by buying and maintaining their own panels. The ACC is set to have a hearing on the TEP rate case on October 23.
“The real issue is energy justice. Where you have the potential for homeowners to produce their own energy and get off the grid and stop contributing to coal production, dirty fossil fuels and exacerbated climate change.”
Diego Martinez-Lugo, a climate activist, says the regulator and the utility appear to be working against the best interests of consumers.
“The real issue is energy justice,” he says. “Where you have the potential for homeowners to produce their own energy and get off the grid and stop contributing to coal production, dirty fossil fuels and exacerbated climate change.”
Russell Lowes with the Sierra Club’s Rincon Group says the cost of rooftop solar has been going down – creating jobs and shrinking the state’s carbon footprint – but it needs a favorable rate structure to keep growing.
“It used to be a rich person’s investment, and middle-class people can now do solar,” notes Lowes.
Protesters also held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in downtown Tucson.
By Suzanne Potter and Shaine Smith
Public News Service – AZ