When the Salt River Project utility in Arizona decided to impose new charges for its customers with rooftop solar installations in February, it opened another front in the solar war being waged across the country. Normally, these fights play out before state administrative agencies tasked with setting utilities’ rates and rules. Solar supporters argue that the fees discourage cost-beneficial investments into rooftop solar, while utilities argue that rooftop solar customers still rely on the grid and are not paying their fair share of the costs to support that grid.
Unlike most utilities, however, Salt River’s rates are not set by the state authority charged with setting electric rates, which in Arizona is the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). Under Arizona law, Salt River is a political subdivision of the state that is allowed to set its own rates for retail electric service. As many rooftop solar supporters see it, Salt River has a natural monopoly over retail electric service, has no regulatory oversight, and is abusing its market power to crush its distributed solar competition.