As Tucson, Ariz., struggles to make a living on just $4.75 per hour, a small business owner is fighting to make sure it can survive.
The city council is expected to vote Thursday on a plan that would require utilities to offer solar power for free to residents, businesses and school districts.
The idea, which has the support of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, is backed by energy and transportation officials, but it faces some legal hurdles.
The plan also would eliminate the city’s utility rate, which costs residents and businesses an average of $8 a month, and would increase the citywide rate to $6.25 a month.
Under current law, Tucson’s rate is set to go up $0.50 a month starting next month.
The proposal would raise the rate to more than $7.25, raising concerns about a price spike for consumers.
The utilities that would be affected by the rate hike are the Arizona Public Service Company, which serves about 5 million customers and pays an average $1.18 per month, the Arizona Energy Institute, which covers Tucson, estimated in a recent report.
The utility would have to spend an additional $2.4 million to cover the increased rate.
Utilities that pay rates to residential customers would be hit by a $3.5 million hit, according to the institute.
Tucson City Council members have been meeting with utility officials to discuss the issue and plan an August 5 hearing to determine the best path forward.
The council is also considering a resolution asking the governor to impose a state cap on the amount of energy utilities can charge to residential users.
The cap, set to rise to $100 per megawatt hour by 2020, would reduce the city from a “toxic” energy mix to one that uses a smaller percentage of its energy.
The measure was introduced by Rep. John Rydell, a Democrat who represents the area.
“Solar is a huge solution for Tucson,” Rydill said.
“I’m hopeful we can get it passed this year.”
The Arizona Energy and Conservation Institute, an advocacy group for utilities, has lobbied the state Legislature for a cap.
The institute is part of the state’s bipartisan effort to promote renewable energy.
Its report estimates that Arizona would need about 1,100 megawatts of new solar power by 2020.
The state currently has about 1.2 gigawatts of solar power, but about 1 gigawatt is enough to meet about 3 percent of Arizona’s energy needs.