The Arizona Corporation Commission has been asked to reclassify Arizona schools as residences for the purpose of qualifying for Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) program funds. The REST divides funding between the commercial and residential sectors. The commercial program is becoming rapidly subscribed while the residential program lags.
Even though it is tardy, bringing solar into all the schools would benefit Arizona. However, a haphazard approach that brings solar only to the schools in the more economically fortunate neighborhoods will only repeat what is already occurring in (and across) the residential and commercial sectors where those least able to afford rising energy costs are also the least able to avoid them. The funds collected by the REST program are received from all utility ratepayers, but are only distributed to homeowners and to generally larger businesses; leaving renters and small businesses to continue paying.
This situation exacerbates the long-standing, hidden energy tax on small businesses in Arizona that is forwarded onto Arizona’s consumers. This hidden tax is a result of rate schedules that repress the value of solar energy and other energy management strategies.
Schools must also endure this burden. While they might be reclassified for the purpose of funding, they will continue to purchase energy under the repressive commercial rate schedules. These rate schedules will prevent the schools (i.e. the taxpayers) from realizing the savings they would under more equitable rate schedules.
In order to realize the maximum savings from a solar electric energy system, it must be part of a comprehensive technological, operational, and economic solution. Too few of Arizona’s solar providers offer comprehensive energy solutions that integrate energy generation and energy management into an optimal whole. Even fewer understand how the commercial rate schedules work to defeat the value of such measures.
While reclassifying schools in order to ensure funding has obvious short-term benefits, it is only a palliative. Rather than treating only the symptoms, the priority should be to develop a program that provides equitable funding to all Arizonans, and that leads to the rapid adoption of solar energy and the efficient use of energy across all economic sectors.
More fundamentally, the market manipulations that lead to inequity must be corrected.