In Arizona, Rooftop Solar Gets Political

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Does solar need to be political? Of course, politics affect solar. But support for solar spans the political spectrum, and overall, Americans love solar.

That’s nowhere more obvious than in Arizona, where Republican U.S. Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. co-chairs T.U.S.K. (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed), an organization formed to stand up for energy choice and solar savings.

Yet Arizona has become a major battleground for solar. And the race for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is getting more attention than is common in elections for these kinds of positions.

Why is this race such a contentious one? Arizona, now the #2 solar state, faces some challenges to its solar industry. In fact, GTM Research goes so far as to say that two policies in the state have the potential to put a serious damper on the solar industry there. Between the fee imposed last year on residential solar customers and a recent plan by the Arizona Department of Revenue to add a new property tax for leased rooftop solar systems, the cost of residential solar could become prohibitively high in Arizona.

It’s the recent tax issue that has made the upcoming race for two open seats on the ACC a contentious one. A primary last month did not yield good results for solar.

Two Republican candidates in the primary were supported by dark money, which most think came from Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s major utility. Those candidates, Tom Forese and Doug Little, prevailed against two other Republicans backed by the rooftop solar industry.

In the primary, it seems, APS won. And the Democratic candidates opposing the Republicans are not expected to win in the election.

Now another candidate has thrown his hat in the ring. Joe “Solar Man” Hui, a Republican running as an Independent, has filed to be a write-in candidate for a seat on the ACC. Hui is a  professor emeritus at Arizona State University as well as CEO of renewable energy company Monarch Power Corp.

Does he have a chance? Maybe not, especially given the power that dark money has wielded so far in this race. But at least he’ll continue to bring attention to the solar situation in Arizona.

The race for the ACC seats has certainly been a disappointment so far. Yet it’s interesting to note that the division was not along party lines but within the Republican party. It seems that many leaders in that party are out of touch with their own base, which joins the Democrats in strongly favoring solar power.

In fact, solar is an area that’s showing us what some are calling “an America that we don’t get to see very often in politics anymore” — one where Republicans and Democrats find common ground.

It’s that common ground that will lead to more victories for solar like the many we’ve seen already around the country. It’s that common ground that will prevail, whatever happens in Arizona this fall. With so much support from all stripes of Americans, solar will win.