- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - An agreement between the nation’s largest solar company and Arizona’s biggest utility to call off a contentious battle and instead negotiate on how to treat rooftop solar power has hit a major bump, and representatives for both sides said Thursday they’ve called off the talks.

Officials with SolarCity and Arizona Public Service Co. met just once with a mediator to try to work out a deal before suspending the negotiations. APS spokesman Jim McDonald and SolarCity representative Kris Mayes said the parties agreed to keep the talks confidential.

The April deal between APS and SolarCity ended an increasingly public fight. SolarCity was backing a voter initiative mandating that utilities pay homeowners with rooftop solar panels the full retail price for power they send back to the grid. APS, meanwhile, enlisted lawmakers to refer a measure to voters requiring separate rates for solar and non-solar power. Both efforts were called off after the agreement to start mediation.

The suspension of talks was first reported by The Arizona Republic.

The two sides met last week, on the same day that APS asked state regulators to end solar power buyback plans it says don’t fairly cover the costs of providing power to homes with solar panels starting in mid-2017. Existing rooftop solar customers will keep their current rates for 20 years after they are connected. The utility also wants to increase residential rates by about 8 percent and move most customers to a billing plan that charges them more if their power use surges during peak hours.

Mayes said Thursday that SolarCity and the solar advocacy group Energy Freedom Coalition of America which it funds plan to aggressively battle both the solar changes and the demand charges.

“Obviously we’re working very hard to oppose APS’s terrible proposals before the Arizona Corporation Commission that would kill solar energy and harm consumers,” Mayes said.

APS has said it needs changes to its rate structure encourage conservation during peak periods so it can avoid building new power plants. The demand charges it is proposing would charges customers much more if they used too much power during peak periods.

The company also wants to end “net metering,” where customers get full retain price for solar power they don’t use in their homes. The company contends that shifts grid-maintenance costs to non-solar customers.

APS has 40,000 rooftop solar customers, and the number is growing. The company said it expects $1 billion in costs to be shifted over 20 years from solar to non-solar customers.

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