Is there such a thing as too much solar power? Are too many individuals and businesses putting solar panels on their roofs? Is it time to call a halt to the burgeoning solar energy industry, shut down all those profitable solar companies and find more ways of generating electricity from coal and other nonrenewable forms of energy?
That's backward thinking. But that's the future that the Arizona Corporation Commission envisions as it proposes to take a giant step into the past and discourage Arizonans from installing solar panels.
These changes will force Arizona companies out of business and put thousands of Arizonans out of work just as the economy is showing signs of recovery.
It's a bad and an irresponsible idea.
The ACC recently made sweeping changes to the state's renewable energy programs, including the elimination of financial incentives for rooftop solar for businesses and drastic reductions in incentives for residential solar.
But that's not the worst of it. The ACC proposed rolling back a 2007 mandate that required Tucson Electric Power Co. and Arizona Public Service Co. to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. TEP's renewable source percentage would be dropped to 11.5 percent and APS' to 13.5 percent.
Both TEP and APS have done a commendable job of expanding their renewable energy portfolios - and this should be supported, not punished.
Meanwhile, look what neighboring states have done: Colorado has a 30 percent standard by 2020. California has a 33 percent renewable standard by 2020 and says it will meet that by a "comfortable margin."
But the ACC move will send employment plunging in the renewable energy field.
After the commission acted, one company with facilities in Phoenix and Tucson reported a loss of $11 million in commercial solar contracts - and said the company may close its Arizona operations.
A Tucson solar installer reported that he will have to lay off a large percentage of his workforce. He expects commercial project development to fall to zero, and to complete one residential solar system a week instead of eight.
Solar companies that have contacted my office have said the ACC is changing the rules in the middle of the game. Over the last year, businesses reasonably expected - based on the commission's own actions - that limited incentives for commercial projects would be available in 2013.
Now that these programs have been shut down, dozens of projects will not move forward, wasting money spent on pre-engineering, contracting and permitting. Major projects with the Department of Defense and Walmart, both of which testified against the proposed changes, have been canceled.
The commission's proposal also would allow any renewable energy connected to the grid to count toward a utility's renewable energy requirement - even if the utility did not provide incentives to the owner.
So if a homeowner purchases a solar system with his or her own money, the utility still will be allowed to bank the energy produced by that system. This raises serious property rights issues and discourages competition.
This is particularly troubling for federally funded projects on military bases. If a utility takes credit for renewable energy produced on military installations in Arizona, the Department of Defense cannot count them toward its own requirements.
The cumulative effect of these actions is to transform a business environment that has been aggressively pro-renewable-energy to one now hostile to the many companies that have been working to diversify Arizona's and our country's energy supply.
Arizona's renewable energy companies must not be penalized for their success. Instead of job-killing proposals, the state should support or increase its commitment renewable energy.
How to comment
To comment on the Arizona Corporation Commission's decision contact the agency at www.azcc.gov
Ron Barber is the U.S. representative for Arizona's District 2.