One of the most-watched battles between solar power proponents and of conventional utilities played out in Arizona, where Arizona Public Service (APS) attempted to add a $50 monthly fee to customers with solar panels. Solar advocates won out, reducing the fee to just $5 a month and getting APS to promise to hold off on the issue until the next formal utility rate hearing.

Unfortunately, holding a utility to its word is easier said than done, and APS has gone to the Arizona Corporate Commission, asking to hike the solar panel surcharge from $5 a month to $21 a month. APS claims that without these fees, the utility faces a projected loss of over $40 million in the next fiscal year.

The utility claims the fee is a fair assessment of what solar customers share in maintaining the power grid, but solar panel owners and installers and understandably outraged, as such a heavy fee would drastically reduce, or even eliminate any potential energy savings offered by going solar. After settling for the $5 fee after a lot of political wrangling, APS repeatedly promised to not address the solar surcharge until the next formal rate change meeting. Elsewhere in Arizona, another utility called the Salt River Project (SRP) won approval for its own $50 solar surcharge, which seems to have emboldened APS. APS just couldn’t wait any longer, despite allegations of corruption directly relating to the solar surcharge issue. Political action group Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK) isn’t taking the news laying down though.

TUSK Chairman Barry Goldwater Jr. said, “Rooftop solar provides savings to thousands of customers, it provides energy choice to utility ratepayers, and it provides jobs for thousands of Arizonans. The quickest way to kill a thriving industry is to tax it and over-regulate it. Sadly, that seems to be APS’ objective.”

Utilities are going on the offensive against solar, but solar advocates are hitting back just as hard, and this pitched battle is far from over. Gee, maybe if utilities like APS and SRP just installed more solar capacity themselves, instead of punishing their customers for doing so, maybe they wouldn’t be tens of millions of dollars in the red?