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Updated Oct 31, 2013 - 2:56 pm

Arizona utility advocates propose smaller price hike for solar users

PHOENIX -- Advocates for residential utility customers are recommending that regulators require new solar customers to pay more, but much less than proposed by the state's largest utility.

The new monthly charge of $7 recommended by the state Residential Utility Consumer Office would gradually increase to $20 over time, depending on market conditions.

Arizona Public Service Corp. wants the Arizona Corporation Commission to require customers who install solar panels on their rooftops to pay substantially more: between $50 and $100 a month.

The utility says current incentives are too generous, meaning that customers who get much of their power from their own solar panels don't pay their fair share of the electric grid's infrastructure costs.

Through ``net metering,'' solar customers get a full-price credit from the utility for the excess energy that's produced by the customer's rooftop panels and sent back into the electric grid.

Solar users and the industry say APS' proposal would increase profits for the utility at the expense of customers and would undermine the solar industry's fiscal foundations.

RUCO said solar customers are avoiding some grid infrastructure costs but that the gap should be closed gradually.

``I think we kind of hit the sweet spot,'' RUCO Director Pat Quinn said of the proposed unveiled Wednesday. ``It's not enough for APS, and it's too much for the solar industry.''

The Corporation Commission is expected to consider the issue Nov. 13-14.

Under RUCO's proposal, the proposed new fee would be charged only to customers who install solar panels after the fee goes into effect.

In another development, commission member Robert Burns demanded that utilities and solar groups disclose how much they're spending on advertising about the issue.

Burns said he wants to know whether money paid by customers has paid for campaigns by utilities and their allies.

``The pressure is coming to bear on this commission,'' Burns said Wednesday. ``The PR campaign, this street fight, has misled voters. ... My problem is, who is paying for this?''

Burns also asked for the same information from solar companies that have opposed APS' proposal.

APS has said the company was using profits- money that would otherwise go to stockholders- to pay for its campaign.

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