Tesla Energy Operations filed a brief this week with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking for it to uphold a lower court decision that would allow its antitrust lawsuit against Arizona utility Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (better known as the Salt River Project, or SRP).
In September, SRP appealed a lower court’s decision that found the utility couldn’t ask for a summary dismissal of Tesla’s claims that it has created an anti-competitive market by imposing unfair fees on outside rooftop solar installers. Tesla has argued that the unregulated Arizona utility actively promoted rooftop installers like SolarCity until they started to affect its profits.
Tesla alleges in the suit that SRP instituted:
a new, punitive price structure designed to make distributed solar cost-prohibitive.. This new regime forces any residential customer who installs a rooftop solar system to pay approximately 65% more than before. By contrast, SRP increased the average bill for nonsolar residential customers by only 3.9%. Commercial solar customers were similarly penalized, with annual increases of about $24,000—increases not imposed on nonsolar customers. SRP’s new rate plan succeeded in defeating “the enemy.” New applications to install distributed solar systems dropped by over 96%.
SRP says it is shielded from lawsuits concerning its business practices under Local Government Antitrust Act of 1984, which established the “state-action doctrine”. The district court found insufficient grounds to dismiss the suit out of hand but did find that while the state-action doctrine did not prevent the suit, it did protect SRP from having to pay damages to Tesla should its lawsuit ultimately succeed.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals initially found otherwise, prompting SRP to claim it needed the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene immediately in the case to preserve its “important interests”. Tesla argues in its brief that the “important interests” are not sufficient to warrant Supreme Court intervention before the full Ninth Circuit issues its decision.