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Future of renewable energy dominates Corporation Commission race

Candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission, (from left) Republican incumbent Bob Stump, Democratic incumbent Sandra Kennedy, Republican challenger Bob Burns, Democratic incumbent Paul Newman, Republican challenger Susan Bitter Smith and Democratic challenger Marcia Busching, field questions during a Sept. 20 debate, hosted by the Arizona Investment Council and moderated by former KAET “Horizon” host Michael Grant.

Candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission, (from left) Republican incumbent Bob Stump, Democratic incumbent Sandra Kennedy, Republican challenger Bob Burns, Democratic incumbent Paul Newman, Republican challenger Susan Bitter Smith and Democratic challenger Marcia Busching, field questions during a Sept. 20 debate, hosted by the Arizona Investment Council and moderated by former KAET “Horizon” host Michael Grant.

The shape of renewable energy in Arizona is taking center stage in the fight for three open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Republican candidates — incumbent Bob Stump, former state lawmaker Bob Burns and Susan Bitter Smith, former president of the Central Arizona Project and former vice mayor of Scottsdale — say they would try to keep utility prices stable while working toward the state-mandated goal of having

15 percent of Arizona’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.

Democrats — incumbents Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy along with challenger Marcia Busching — say the commission should continually find ways to go beyond that goal by promoting new projects and resisting policies that cause pollution.

Both slates are trying to portray each other as reckless bunglers of energy policy, while attempting to cast themselves as the more responsible stewards of the state’s energy future.

Energy prices for individuals and businesses are directly affected by the commission’s decisions, and they can have a subtle but significant ripple effect throughout the state’s economy.

Three of the utility-regulating commission’s five seats are up for grabs this year, while two Republican commissioners, Gary Pierce and Brenda Burns, will continue to serve until their four-year terms are up in 2014.

Democrats Newman, Kennedy and Busching have dubbed themselves the “solar team.” They charge the Republicans with finding ways to skirt the state’s renewable energy standard goal, and say the commission should continually consider ways to increase the 15 percent benchmark.

“I think it’s a great,” Kennedy said of the state’s renewable energy goals. “But I think Arizona should continue to move forward.”

Stump, the only Republican commissioner up for re-election this year, said the commission has a close relationship with every Arizonan, even if the race doesn’t garner the high profile of other statewide races.

“The five of us have our hands on your pocketbooks on a daily basis,” 

he said.

Stump, along with running mates Bob Burns and Bitter Smith, have put that message at the fore of their bid for the commission.

They argue that prioritizing stability of energy prices, along with a balanced transition toward increased renewable energy, is the most responsible direction to take the state. They promise to make that the centerpiece of their policy direction.

Ushering more renewable energy into the state’s overall energy portfolio is, in fact, mandated by a 2006 Corporation Commission resolution that set the 15 percent benchmark.

The Republicans running for the commission this year have all said they do not support diminishing the 15 percent goal. But the Democrats argue that the Republican majority of Brenda Burns, Pierce and Stump have promoted measures that undermine the renewable energy standard.

Specifically, the Democrats cite a recent fight over classifying waste- incinerating power plants as a renewable energy source, with Republican commissioners supporting and passing the move and the Democrats opposing it.

The Democratic candidates argued that rejecting waste incineration and promoting other renewable energy projects is more in the spirit of the

15 percent goal.

Stump, an advocate for the waste-incinerating power plan, said the waste burning plan is classified as renewable by 24 states. He said it is widespread in Europe and Asia and that it reduces the net production of carbon dioxide emissions, which would be used to turn the trash into landfills.

Democrats also criticize a recent decision by the commission passed with only Republican support. That decision maintains a delivery surcharge applied to individual electric users, even if they install solar panels on their homes.

Kennedy and Newman said the decision reflects a general animosity toward solar energy and shows how the Republicans have tried to impede a transition to increased solar power in Arizona.

Stump, however, argues that avoiding too great an incentive to solar energy is the more responsible way to ensure that energy rates do not fluctuate sporadically.

The Democrats’ plan, Stump said, would lead to a quick increase in solar energy production in Arizona, but would cause energy costs to go up dramatically.

“Instead of making dirty fuel sources more expensive, we need to make cleaner energy sources cheaper,” Stump argued. “I think there’s an effort to disparage the efforts of the Republican majority when it comes to renewable energy procurement, and what you have to ask is, ‘Is Arizona’s renewable energy profile better than it was four years ago?’ When you look at the facts, you have to say yes.”

Stump’s assertion has been validated by a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, which placed Arizona second in the nation for photovoltaic solar panel installation.

He, along with the other Republicans on the commission, say this validates the current efforts to promote solar. The Democrats argue that momentum is in jeopardy with Republicans at the helm.

Another recent report from Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest energy provider, says solar energy is projected to be a cheaper form of energy than that produced from coal. The Democrats say this, along with public surveys showing wide support for increased solar production, are reasons enough to work to increase the amount of solar energy being produced in the state.

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