(Disclosure: Rose Law Group represents SolarCity)
By Rachel Leingang | Arizona Capitol Times
Solar and utilities dropped all plans for three ballot measures and instead decided to begin settlement talks after a tense two weeks of skirmishes between the two sides.
Republican Sen. Debbie Lesko made the announcement at a 5 p.m. press conference today, saying SolarCity agreed not to file another initiative for the 2016 election. Lesko said she and Sen. Don Shooter, who were pushing two ballot referrals aimed against the SolarCity initiative, agreed to drop their referrals as well.
“This is a good day for Arizona, and I think everybody should be happy,” Lesko said.
Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed that The Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act, supported with a $3 million initial influx from SolarCity, had been officially withdrawn.
The deal was announced as soon as Kris Mayes, who heads the pro-solar ballot measure, handed over to Lesko a notarized document showing that the initiative is now officially withdrawn.
Lobbyist Meghaen Dell’Artino confirmed that the governor’s office, particularly Gov. Doug Ducey and chief of staff Kirk Adams, played a key role in reaching the deal, under which Arizona Public Service and the rooftop solar industry will enter settlement talks for the utility’s upcoming rate case.
APS spokesman Hal Pittman said the utility appreciated the work by Lesko, Shooter and the governor’s office.
“We’re open to engaging in constructive dialogue with SolarCity that benefits all Arizonans,” Pittman said in a statement. “Our goal, as we’ve stated, has always been to ensure fair energy policy for the state at affordable pricing for all of our customers, and sustainable solar for the long term.”
A professional mediator will be involved in the negotiations, paid for and approved by both sides, Mayes said. She said she hoped the group would have a settlement on solar to bring to the Arizona Corporation Commission within about 10 days.
Mayes said filing the initiative wasn’t necessarily a tactic to bring utilities to the negotiating table on solar energy.
“But if we can come to a compromise that preserves solar energy in Arizona and the right of everyone to produce their own power, then I think we’ve accomplished a great thing. If we can get to the point where we’ve saved solar for Arizona through negotiations, that’s terrific,” Mayes said.
She said the fact that the two sides were willing to negotiate was a big deal and could potentially be a model for the rest of the country as utilities and solar grapple over rates and the electric grid.
The two legislative ballot referrals were approved in the Senate Committee of the Whole earlier on April 28. Lesko said she understood there were negotiations happening, but she wanted proof the solar initiative would be withdrawn and not refiled in the future.
The two referrals would have regulated solar companies as public service corporations and require the Arizona Corporation Commission to change rates and rules for solar.
Strike-everything amendments to HCR 2041 and HCR 2039 would have competed with the initiative backed by solar companies that would preserve the status quo for solar energy in the state.
The Arizona Solar Energy Freedom Act would have preserved net metering at the retail rate, prohibit demand charges on solar customers and prohibit increases in solar fees. It would also have required utilities to interconnect solar systems within 45 days. Most of the act’s provisions would expire in 2023.
The amendment to HCR 2039, offered by Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, would have amended the definition of public service corporations, which are generally electric and water utilities, to
The “Solar For All Act,” HCR 2041, in Lesko’s name, would have required the Corporation Commission to “establish rules and procedures to maximize the use of solar energy in the public interest without sacrificing the affordability of electricity or the reliability of the electrical system.”
She previously confirmed she was working with utilities, including APS, to craft a referendum after she saw the proposal from Yes on AZ Solar. APS had sharply criticized the solar initiative, calling it a “ridiculous attempt by California billionaires to get richer.