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Home / energy / Tobin bristles as APS urges Corp Comm to ignore his plan

Tobin bristles as APS urges Corp Comm to ignore his plan

Commissioner Andy Tobin speaks with reporters after being sworn in as the state's latest utility regulator at the Arizona Corporation Commission in Tucson on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Ryan Van Velzer)

Commissioner Andy Tobin speaks with reporters after being sworn in as the state’s latest utility regulator at the Arizona Corporation Commission in Tucson on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Ryan Van Velzer)

The newest state utility regulator is blasting Chairman Doug Little for sidelining a discussion of whether Arizona Public Service should be forced to use some of the cash it has from ratepayers to reduce peak energy demand through battery storage.

Andy Tobin told Capitol Media Services all he wanted was to discuss at a meeting this week the idea of requiring APS to look at things like storing energy in batteries. He said that would go a long way toward addressing the bid by APS — and other utilities — to impose new demand charges on customers on top of what they already pay for electricity.

But Tobin said that when he refused a request by APS to table the issue, the utility went to Little. And the chairman admitted he used his authority to yank the item from the agenda.

Little would not consent to be interviewed, instead issuing a statement blasting Tobin’s idea, saying it could result in “substantial additional costs to ratepayers if not properly implemented.”

“We cannot shoot from the hip on important policy matters like this,” his statement read. And Little said it would have locked APS into programs to shift energy use away from peak periods for five years “without regard to whether they were cost effective or not.”

But Tobin said what Little has done, at APS’ behest, is short-circuit any discussion.

“It makes me mad,” he said. “I wasn’t very pleased we couldn’t even have the conversation.”

Commissioner Bob Stump said holding an item to iron out details, especially one with broad policy changes, is standard procedure at the commission. Typically, a commissioner is allowed to request an item be held one time. Stump said in his seven years as a commissioner, he’s likely seen hundreds of items held.

“I have to wonder when it appears as though a commissioner is actively picking fights over standard operating procedures at the commission. This is a quasi-judicial body, it’s not fight club,” he said.

Central to all this is the bid by utilities to change how residential customers are billed.

They now pay a base fee for being connected to the grid, with a charge based on usage.

The plan being proposed by APS and considered by other utilities is to add a demand factor, with the bill based in part on the highest demand. So a customer whose air conditioner, dryer and pool pump all kicked on at the same time could face a much larger bill for the entire month, even if he or she kept overall energy use low.

APS has a “demand side management” plan, using ratepayer dollars for things like rebates for customers to buy programmable thermostats and more efficient air conditioners.

But Tobin said the company has nearly $26 million in demand side funds sitting idle. So he proposed spending $4 million of that on incentives to reduce energy consumption during demand periods, including energy storage.

Little acknowledged at the meeting that APS had asked him to pull the item, saying utility officials were concerned they did not have the time to review Tobin’s proposal which had been introduced just the day before. But the chairman said he had intended to do that even without APS input, saying what Tobin wanted had “sweeping implications.”

Stump noted that the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project wanted more time to digest Tobin’s amendments in addition to APS.

“I don’t understand the mistrust. I think everything has been very transparent. To try to paint this, yet again, as an APS conspiracy is ridiculous. … This whole narrative of portraying APS as being an arm of the illuminati, with their tentacles in every aspect, is really getting stale,” Stump said.

Tobin, however, countered that APS had given commissioners only a week to review the utility’s plans. Anyway, he said, there was no reason not to explore the issue.

“It would have been nice to have the conversation,” he said. And he chided APS for on one hand wanting to change the rates to reduce peak demand while not really doing anything about it — like proposing a storage pilot program.

“Why didn’t they come up with the idea?” he said.

Little is not the only problem. Stump weighed in with his own prepared statement saying Tobin should “begin focusing on good-faith consensus-building, as opposed to confrontation, as we work together on issues we all agree are critical to Arizona’s future.”

But Tobin said what Stump essentially wants is a discussion of the issue behind the scenes, away from the public.

“Having withdrawn it entirely I think was a mistake for the chairman,” he said.

“And then for them to tell me that I’m not a team player?” Tobin continued. “What does that tell you? Do they want to just coordinate this not in public?”

Stump said Tobin’s office reached out to his policy adviser for help working on the amendment ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, and it was Stump’s understanding that the item would be held in order to put more work into it.

“I think we’re all perplexed as to why, instead of working things out amicably, Andy’s chosen to issue press releases slamming us. And that’s not the Andy that I knew at the Legislature,” he said.

APS insists it’s not necessarily opposed to some kind of energy storage, calling it in a statement “an increasingly promising element in the deliver of electric service.”

Company spokesman Jim McDonald said APS already is looking at energy storage, both at the residential and the “grid” level. And he said APS intends to work with the commission as they consider the issue.

There is a political side to all of this.

APS has refused to confirm or deny that it funneled money into the 2014 campaign to elect Little and Tom Forese through one of two “dark money” organizations which were spending heavily to influence that election.

Campaign finance records show that Save Our Future Now and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club together spent more than $3 million on that campaign. Both groups have refused to reveal their donors, saying they are organized under federal tax laws as “social welfare” organizations, exempt from state financial disclosure laws.

– Reporter Rachel Leingang contributed to this story.

6 comments

  1. This is what happens when a utility is allowed to spend huge amounts of money, behind the scenes, to get pro-utility commissioners elected.

    The natural outcome is, commissioners whose positions were secured specifically by the utility that they are tasked to regulate are going to make sure, most if not all decisions they make end up being favorable to their funders at the utility.

    Why my friends, who are Republicans in Arizona, don’t see this is a complete and total mystery to me.

    My impression was, conservatives preferred to not have the government tell them how they had to live their lives, including decisions regarding what energy technologies they may choose to power their homes.

    For some reason, Arizona’s republican electorate has concluded that if you have an (R) behind your name, you should be automatically installed in positions that will have serious impacts on your daily decisions, including your ability to decide how you power your home.

    Now that SRP has virtually killed residential solar installations in their territories by imposing demand taxes on anyone wanting to install solar on their homes, with APS now proposing to do the exact same thing, perhaps folks are waking up to just how important it is to vote for someone based on their policy stances and not their party affiliations.

    Decisions the utilities make, and thus the regulators tasked with making sure these monopolies do not abuse the public, are critical.

    When SRP killed solar in early 2015 with their demand taxes on solar customers, hundreds, if not thousands of jobs were lost in the formerly growing solar sector in SRP territories.

    When we for anyone for a position on the ACC, whether Republican, Democrat, Independent or otherwise, I would hope all Arizonan’s would consider two things.

    First, who is backing the candidates running and what is the bottom line intent of those backers?

    Second, is the candidate going to impose upon me, or my neighbors, policies that favor the monopoly utilities over the rights of every individual in Arizona?

  2. Ken, you’re ill-informed about Commission procedures and full of it.

  3. It is true that not following SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) on things can lead to results that are good, bad, or indifferent. In this case, if the item was pulled to give Commissioners more time to study the issue, why wasn’t that stated and already added to the items for the next open meeting. The trend we are seeing is that if APS doesn’t want to discuss something in public, it will never see the light of day, courtesy of their bought-and-paid-for Commissioners.

  4. Bob,

    I have been involved with ACC issues for years, worked in the semiconductor, thin films panel development, commercialization and manufacturing for a decade and worked in multiple campaigns for ACC commisioners.

    I’ve also spent hours and hours at the ACC and have seen directly the impact of the ACC’s decisions across Arizona.

    Your rude, dismissive response does not qualify to my standards regarding intelligent dialog on these issues.

    Best to you,
    Ken

  5. Mr. Stump states “I don’t understand the mistrust. I think everything has been very transparent. To try to paint this, yet again, as an APS conspiracy is ridiculous. … This whole narrative of portraying APS as being an arm of the illuminati, with their tentacles in every aspect, is really getting stale.”

    While Mr. Stump slightly overstates the popular characterization of APS, he seems to severely underestimate the level of public distrust that APS and the Commission have created by their own actions. It was clear from the 2014 Commission race that someone was implementing a far-reaching and widespread strategy to shape and manipulate the regulatory apparatus to achieve APS’s ends.

    While APS has declined to admit that it funded the campaigns that installed Commissioners Little and Forese in office, its refusal to confirm or deny the allegation, claiming that doing so would violate its free speech “rights”, speaks volumes. Mr. Stump’s own possible role in that election manipulation and coziness with APS management makes his claims of victimization suspect.

    There is something fundamentally indecent (if not illegal) about a monopoly business purchasing the regulators of its choosing using anonymous campaign contributions. If APS and the Corporation Commission wish to restore public confidence that this has not occurred in Arizona, Mr. Stump would be wise to use the Commission’s regulatory powers to force APS to disclose what role, if any, it played in anonymously funding the 2014 election, and seeking to ensure that all future utility participation in elections is transparently disclosed.

    Claiming that APS is the victim of a conspiracy, while giving APS everything they seek before the Commission and refusing to take action that will demonstrate whether APS has manipulated the election does nothing but fuel public suspicions that the majority of Commissioners are APS puppets. That loss of confidence has already severely damaged the Commission. Mr. Stump – Please use your remaining time in office to take concrete steps towards repairing that damage, rather than editorializing that you and APS are victims.

  6. Jon Findley, if you look at the video of the meeting, you will see that this was stated. Everything is a conspiracy for you? Probably just partisanship on your part. Yes, that’s it.

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