UniSource modifies proposed energy rate package

Diyana Dimitrova

A utility company in Arizona has modified its proposed new rate packages in the face of opposition to hikes in charges.

UniSource, the main supplier of electricity in Mohave County, has proposed various rate packages it hopes will be agreed to by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Those who opposed the original proposals, announced in May 2015, focused their objections on rates based on high demand, therefore higher and increased prices for those using solar power.

Demand rates are based on those times where there is the highest usage. Under the modified proposals, which UniSource says is similar to the original ones, customers can pick a package that does not include demand-based rates.

Rates for customers with new solar panels, installed after June 1, 2015, will change; and they will be compensated less for any excess they put back into the grid, so-called net metering. Rates for those who installed before that date will remain unchanged.

“They (new solar users) are still saving something like $60 a month,” Joe Barrios, UniSource spokesman, told Arizona Business Daily.

Barrios said that, if the present rate system for new solar customers continues, it is likely other customers, the majority, would pay more.

“That’s been something we have tried to talk about since we filed the application, that is rates that are more fair for all of our customers,” Barrios said.

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson has led the opposition to the rate changes. He described the changes UniSource made as “incomplete."

"It is obvious that they have heard the voices of Mohave County residents," Johnson told the Daily Miner newspaper.

Johnson said that Mohave County residents shouldn't be satisfied with UniSource withdrawing its request to apply demand charges. An increase for those using solar is neither justified nor warranted, he said.

"I still encourage people to file opposition against their proposal and let them know that Mohave County residents do not want any type of unjustified increase,” Johnson said.

Another vocal opponent of the proposed changed rates has been Tom Sheahan, former Mojave County Sheriff.

In an op-ed in the Daily Miner, published before the modifications announced by UniSource, Sheahan claimed the utility company “wants to put the rooftop solar industry out of business by preventing customers from receiving fair credit for the extra clean energy they produce.”

Barrios said he could not comment on Sheahan’s involvement with the opposition.

“Sheriff Sheahan attended some of those public meetings," Barrios said. "He served Mojave County for a long time, well liked by the people who lived there, but I strongly disagree with his assertions about the rate proposals.”

Sheahan did not respond to calls for comment from Arizona Business Daily.

Following the announcement of the modified rate package, Arizona Corporation Commission spokeswoman Angie Holdsworth said that ACC staff still have to give an opinion to the commissioners that takes into account all of the testimony and evidence submitted. Afterward, a judge will issue a recommendation before the proposal returns to ACC commissioners for a final vote.

UniSource's revised proposal to ACC offers five billing plans to traditional customers, including one that does not include "demand" charges and two plans for solar customers. Both solar billing plans would require demand charges.

“The increase reflects the cost of recent investments to maintain safe, reliable and sustainable service, including new solar energy resources and our shared purchase of an efficient natural gas-fired power plant," 

UniSource President David Hild said in an editorial in the News-Herald.

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Arizona Corporation Commission UniSource Energy Services

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