In sunny Arizona, a battle over solar power

An insider fight over how much a utility company must pay for electricity generated by solar panels on private rooftops is boiling over into a full-fledged campaign, complete with shadowy  money, expensive television advertising, calls for grass-roots action and some of the best pollsters and consultants money can buy.

The feud between the utility and solar panel industries revolves around net metering policies, which govern part of the relationship between utilities and their customers. If the customers have solar panels that generate surplus electricity, the customers can feed that power back into the electric grid; utilities are required to pay the consumer a set rate for the electricity they generate.

When those rates were first implemented, the nascent solar industry had few residential customers. But now, as more customers invest in solar panels for economic or environmental reasons, public utilities are starting to feel the pinch — and they want to stop paying rates they say are above market value for power they can’t always use.

When the Arizona Corporation Commission holds its November meeting, commissioners will consider a request from Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest electric utility, to change those rates. The utility industry wants permission to pay rates below market value, and to charge customers who feed electricity back to the grid a monthly fee for maintenance costs.

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