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State Supreme Court clears way for trash-burning plant near Surprise

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The Arizona Supreme Court has removed the last legal impediment to a trash-burning power plant near Surprise.

Without comment the justices on Tuesday upheld an appellate court ruling that concluded the Arizona Corporation Commission did nothing wrong in allowing the Mohave Electric Cooperative to meet part of its renewable-energy mandate through trash. In that decision, the appellate judges said it is up to the commission to decide what is renewable.

Commission regulations require utilities to obtain at least 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2025. The panel also has allowed utilities to impose a surcharge on customers to cover the higher costs of alternatives to conventional energy resources like nuclear, coal, oil and natural gas.

Reclamation Power Group, which wants to build the plant, says it needs the facility to qualify as “renewable” power to be able to charge Mohave Electric what it needed to build the plant. Having that renewable designation allows Mohave to pass on those costs to its more than 39,000 customers.

Commissioners approved the renewable designation five years ago on 3-2 party-line vote, with Republicans in support. The Sierra Club responded by filing suit, contending the commission’s own rules do not allow trash incineration to be considered a renewable resource.

In last year’s ruling, the appellate judges sidestepped that question and instead concluded the commission’s own rules entitle it to issue waivers for “good cause.” The judges, in the ruling the Supreme Court refused to disturb, also said the commission’s decisions about its own rules are entitled to deference.

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