Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona Corporation Commission began hearings today on an APS proposal to reduce incentives to residential solar power customers. Arizona Capitol Times reporter Luige Del Puerto is covering the hearings. He joins us now. Good to see you. Real quickly, we talked about this so much but what are we talking about?
Luige del Puerto: We are talking about a system that allows those who have rooftop solar panels installed, to sell that excess electricity, the ones that they are not using, back to the grid. And right now, APS is paying a purchasing, essentially, that of electricity, and aps is saying the rate that they are purchasing that excess energy, is too high, and fair to non-solar customers.
Ted Simons: And basically, you sell the excess energy back to the grid, and offsetting the energy used, and basically, they are saying it's not fair if you have the solar and you are selling it back, good for you, not good for me if I don't have solar because I got to pick up your costs.
Luige del Puerto: The way to explain it, the non-solar customers are picking up the cost because everybody is using the electric grid, and whenever, if I were a solar user, and if I'm using the grid to sell back that energy, I am accessing that infrastructure, and at the same time, I'm not really paying for it, and that's what the argument is, that in the end, it's the non-solar customers that end up paying to maintain the cost of the electric grid.
Ted Simons: And I guess, those who are on the side of the rooftop solar people, they are saying, well, yeah, but you have less to worry about now, and you have less power to worry about, and maybe not, you don't need a new plant or the excess infrastructure.
Luige del Puerto: They’re saying that the current system is working. It's working because you are producing clean and local energy, and because you are producing clean and local energy, you are also easing the burden off the grid. The solar, the utilities don't have to produce that much energy and in which they consider to be not as clean energy, and therefore, assist them, they think that we should be cultivating, instead of, you know, adopting A.P. as the proposal, which is to, drastically cut the incentives their savings, essentially, by roughly half.
Ted Simons: And I heard to 30-60%, somewhere along those lines, and what- talk about the hearings today, what happened there and was heard?
Luige del Puerto: Today the commission formally began its hearings on this proposal, the aps. They will probably, most likely decide this issue tomorrow. Today, what we heard is a bunch of people who have installed solar rooftops panels. And they are very concerned, very weary, and they have asked the commission to, essentially maintain the status quo. What's really interesting for me to see, basically, is the absence of those customers, or the defenders of the aps proposal. They have not really showed up today. And maybe they will show up tomorrow. But for the last five hours or so, the commissioners have heard nothing but an outpouring of sentiment against the aps proposal.
Ted Simons: Did the folks who have already put the rooftop solar panels in, they are ok, correct? It's just if you plan on putting them in, in the future, then you have got to worry.
Luige del Puerto: Those who have the panels right now, they will be grandfathered in, and those new ones, would not be. To the solar companies, that's a problem because they want to keep growing. They also want to keep earning, and if they can't entice customers to get a lease to purchase the system, then it basically kills the industry. To their mind, that's what it ultimately wants to do, which is to kill the solar rooftop industry in Arizona.
Ted Simons: And we should mention, it sounds like what they want to do is have these customers selling this excess energy back to the grid at a retail rate instead of what is the whole sale rate?
Luige del Puerto: Yes, they are selling it or purchasing it at 13 cents or something like that, per kila-power. APS wants to up that. So basically, APS is saying that that's not enough- what you are paying right now, is not enough for you to pay your share of maintaining the infrastructure that we have now, which by the way, you are also accessing.
Ted Simons: And what is ruco, and they have a proposal, and what is that?
Luige del Puerto: The residential utility customers office, the consumers office, is a unit under the Governor's office. All they do is basically defend or advocate for the interest of rate payers right now. They have a proposal that basically says yes, we believe that there is a cost shift that non-solar customers are paying for infrastructure. And those that have solar rooftop panels are avoiding it, but they are saying we should not charge them by the same amount that aps is seeking. So what their proposal does is offer for the Corporation Commission to charge solar rooftop users with a smaller amount than what aps is seeking.
Ted Simons: A middle ground there so to speak.
Luige del Puerto: Correct. It's about $7 to $8 per month that they are asking for, and that would increase over time.
Ted Simons: And the A.P. special is $70 to $80 a month, something along those lines?
Luige del Puerto: That would be the savings that would be cut if you have a solar rooftop.
Ted Simons: So we got two days of hearings, by tomorrow, we should know something, huh?
Luige del Puerto: They should decide tomorrow, at least that's what we are hearing.
Ted Simons: And it I understand that the staff actually says maybe don't consider this thing until next year? Or the year after?
Luige del Puerto: The staff of the Corporation Commission filed a report, and they looked into the proposals that were offered. They basically said keep the status quo.
Ted Simons: All right which may wind up being something that we talk about at a later date. With that in mind, before we let you go, we have to talk about what's happening over in the Philippines. That's your homeland and it's obviously something on your mind. Talk to us about the typhoon, how is your family, how is your home, and how are you doing?
Luige del Puerto: I am - it's hard for me to watch the images because I'm so far away and I'm sitting in the comfort my home, or in the comfort of my office, knowing the anguish that they are experiencing over in the Philippines. Fortunately, my mom and my siblings are fine. They live in parts of the country that have been spared from the devastation. My mom and my other siblings live in the northern part. Two of my brothers live in the southern part of the country. But, the typhoon had hit the central islands. Those islands face the Pacific Ocean and so they get hit every year by these storms.
Ted Simons: And you lived through, when you were reporting over there, you reported on these storms. These, obviously not to this level, but they get a lot of storms over there.
Luige del Puerto: Yes, growing up in the Philippines, every child experiences this cycle of a storm coming and going. And I experienced some of the storms. I remember very starkly a storm in 1991, what we had to go through and the devastation that my town was whipped by that storm. Not as bad as in other places. As a reporter, I often covered these disasters. So I can mention it's hard for me to watch these images and to know what's going on. Having been there, and also being so far away, feeling so helpless about it.
Ted Simons: The impact on the Arizona Filipino community, what's happening out there? Any organizing efforts going on? What are you seeing or hearing?
Luige del Puerto: There are efforts to contribute help, send donations, and our church is collecting donations this Sunday. I know that there are other organizations, nonprofits, that have hunkered down and trying to help. The country needs help right away, and it needs help later on, also, when the media spotlight is gone. The rebuilding will take years and hopefully, within those years when we rebuild, the country is not hit by a storm with the same level that we have seen.
Ted Simons: Real quickly from what you understand, regarding the storms, from what you understand about the country. Socio political impact, could there be some sort of unrest fallout, changes, what do you think?
Luige del Puerto: It's tough to say at this point. I know that the Philippine Government is defending its actions- the fact that they have not been able to get help as soon as possible. Part of that is that the infrastructure was wiped out in this particular town. The airports were also closed; I understand some are open now, so it's hard to get help to them. Fortunately, the United States had been a very close ally country and helping and is now helping, also.
Ted Simons: A remarkable story, by the way, in the capitol times. Certainly recommended reading. We feel for you. And we hope that everything works out for the best for all of your loved ones and everyone concerned. Thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon."
Luige del Puerto: Thank you.