Lon Huber was special projects advisor for RUCO, the Residential Utility Consumer Office of Arizona, when, in 2013, he proposed a new kind of fee to Chairman Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission. Huber’s idea was a “fixed charge on every solar customer’s bill.” It would become the nation’s first monthly utility fee for customers who generate their own electricity using rooftop solar.
Within a year, the utility-industry trade association, Edison Electric Institute, was including the idea of a monthly residential solar fee in EEI-Getting-Solar-Right-Sept-Oct-14-1.pdf, as a way to stymie popular demand for residential solar.
Since then, the idea has taken off. Arizona Public Service (APS) pushed hard this past summer to increase the initial $5 monthly fee to $21, but withdrew temporarily in the face of opposition. Wisconsin was second with a monthly charge of $16 for WE Energy solar customers enacted Dec. 2014, but that fee was overturned by a judge on Oct. 30, 2015. Salt River Project, a regional Arizona utility, imposed a $50 monthly fee in Feb. 2015, and applications for new rooftop solar systems have dropped 95 percent. Other states are in play, too.
In March, 2015, Huber left RUCO to become a government and utility practice director at San Francisco-based consulting firm Strategen. Three months later, as shown in records obtained by Checks and Balances Project (C&BP), he was pitching his Arizona Net Metering policy to Tim Drew, a senior analyst at California’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates.
The next day, Drew thanked Huber for discussing his Arizona Net Metering policy, as well as a proposal for on-site utility storage of renewable energy.
Nine days later, Huber contacts Drew again.
Later that month, Drew and Huber exchanged emails about meeting.
Drew then was the lead author of a proposal that the Office of Ratepayer Advocates submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission. If the proposal is approved later this month, it could hold back residential, rooftop solar for a generation.
Less than three months later, when Tim Drew was questioned under oath by an attorney for The Alliance for Solar Choice on Oct. 7, 2015, he declared he did not discuss the Arizona market with Huber, but had a conversation about on-site storage. C&BP has obtained a copy of the evidentiary hearing transcript.
Here is an excerpt:
Q: Have you had any conversations with the Arizona Commission staff about their program?
A: I have had a conversation with a former employee of the Ratepayer Advocate of the State of Arizona.
Q: Who would that employee be?
A: I don’t recall his last name. First name Lon.
Q: Would his last name be Huber?
A: That sounds familiar.
Q: Do you know who he is currently employed by?
A: No, I don’t….
Q: Did you discuss the $0.70 per kilowatt fee with Mr. Huber?
A: I don’t think I did, to my recollection.
Q: Did you discuss the basis of that fee in any respect, why it was done?
Q: Did you discuss the State of the Arizona market with Mr. Huber?
A: No, I did not.
When Office of Ratepayer Advocates first contacted Strategen in June 2015, Drew wrote, “ORA is considering adding a provision in our proposal for the NEM successor tariff to encourage on-site energy storage adoption.” But by the time ORA’s proposal was submitted and Tim Drew testified to the California Public Utilities Commission on Sept. 21, all mention of energy storage – residential or utility-scale – had been dropped. The centerpiece of ORA’s proposal was a rising, monthly fee that would make rooftop solar technology too expensive for most Californians.
Drew’s ORA proposal to the CPUC is one of the most draconian presented under the Net Metering 2.0 assessment that is examining the future of net metering in California. In fact, the monthly charges are even higher than those in Huber’s Arizona proposal.
An average household has a seven kilowatt system. If rooftop solar would reach 7% of the residential market, the required monthly fee for each solar household in California would be $70 per month.
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.