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Utility Left Feeling Salty

Phoenix metro area's main provider ruled to have price-gouged solar customers

Salt River Project, the primary utility service provider in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area, took a hit in the latest episode of "greenwashing" this week.

A 31.2 kW solar energy parking structure, similar to those deployed on residential buildings, seen here at an SRP customer site in Mesa, Arizona.—Salt River Project photo

The company was found guilty of a price-gouging scheme by a federal appeals court for practices dating back to 2015 or earlier. Judge Eric Miller for the appellate panel, read evidence that concluded:

"In February 2015, the [Salt River Project] board of directors approved the new pricing scheme. At the same time, it adopted a rate increase for its non-solar customers of only about 3.9%. After adopting the new pricing scheme, SRP undertook a $1.7 million advertising campaign to promote its increased rates for solar customers. Not surprisingly, applications for solar-energy systems in [Salt River Project] territory decreased by between 50 and 96%.

“[C]oercive activity that prevents its victims from making free choices between market alternatives” gives rise to antitrust injury.

[T]he plaintiff need only show that diminished consumer choices and increased prices are the result of a less competitive market due to either artificial restraints or predatory and exclusionary conduct."

According to the ruling, the company misled its consumers with phrasing such as that on SRP's customer portal: "With SRP Solar Choice, you’ll pay just half a cent per kWh (that’s 50% less than EarthWise Energy) on top of your current price plan. Best of all, you can continue to support solar energy in Arizona by offsetting half or all of your electric use with clean, renewable solar energy. "

Also of note is SRP's partnership with well known motor and generator manufacturer Emerson. In May 2021, SRP selected Emerson’s OSI digital grid solutions to reliably manage its distribution power grid, optimize operations and incorporate a growing supply of distributed energy resources.

The SRP Residential Distributed Energy Resource Program is said to "be designed to help you interconnect you solar electric system safely to SRP's electric grid."

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