If Arizonans want a Corporation Commission dedicated to expanding the role of solar power in the state, they argued, Democratic incumbent commissioners Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman and Democratic challenger Marcia Busching must be elected.
“Some folks are talking the talk, but not walking the walk,” Kennedy said at a press conference Oct. 25. “Don’t believe the Republican candidates. They do not have the track record of being the solar team or the solar advocates.”
The Democrats’ assertion comes as the Republican commissioners tout solar energy achievements made by the state, while the commission has been under 3-2 Republican control over the past four years.
The Republicans have maintained that they offer a more moderate, measured approach to implementing solar power. Their approach, the Republicans argue, will provide more stable energy prices while working toward the state’s mandated goal of having 15 percent of Arizona’s energy produced by renewable sources.
The Republican candidates are incumbent commissioner Bob Stump, Bob Burns, a former state lawmaker and Susan Bitter Smith, former president of the Central Arizona Project and former vice mayor of Scottsdale. They say the state is moving toward the renewable energy standard goal and that trying to expand it would lead to energy market volatility.
“Arizona already has a solar industry – a thriving one,” Stump said. He is quick to cite statistics that show positive growth of solar energy in Arizona: The state is first in rooftop solar in the Southwest, it has added more residential solar in 2012 than in the past three years combined, solar installations increased 333 percent between 2010 and 2011 and the world’s largest concentrated solar plan in the world is being built outside Yuma, among other achievements.
“The Republican majority has helped more Arizonans procure more solar, at a lower cost, than any commission in Arizona history, while protecting ratepayers,” Stump said.
But while the Democrats laud some of those same statistics, they argue that the Republicans want to achieve only the 15 percent mandate, and nothing more, while solar prices continue to come down. The Democrats say that because solar energy production costs are now near parity with natural gas, the 15 percent benchmark should be reevaluated and expanded.
The Democratic candidates declined to say exactly what a new renewable energy standard goal should be, but that experts should be brought in to research the topic.
“You also have polling that shows Arizonans are willing to pay more for renewable,” Newman said, acknowledging there is some cost to transitioning toward solar energy.
The arguments are nothing new in the race to control the state commission that regulates energy. The partisan divide, wherein the Democrats say they want to expand the renewable energy goals and the Republicans say they want to maintain its current goals, has been consistent throughout the race.
The Democratic candidates brought a new sense of urgency as the election draws near, and they complained that the media has not paid enough attention to the race, nor have the issues been properly covered, they said.
“It’s frustrating the amount of coverage we’re getting – or not getting I should say,” Newman said. “It could just be that we’re the forgotten branch of government, but I think this is a tipping point election.”