Billionaire Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer criticized the state’s largest electric company and the biggest competitor of his clean energy ballot initiative Friday for using shady tactics to block a public vote of the renewable energy measure in November.
Steyer also hypothesized Arizona Public Service might be willing to make a deal to boost its renewable energy production if the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative makes it on the ballot.
The California environmentalist and founder of NextGen Climate Action, which is pushing the ballot initiative to mandate half of all electricity produced in Arizona come from renewable energy sources, sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times Friday.
The clean energy initiative will be tied up in court starting Monday as attorneys representing Arizonans for Affordable Electricity — an opposition group funded by APS — work to knock the measure off the ballot. The group has done everything possible to keep the ballot initiative from qualifying by first employing an extensive PR campaign to prevent people from signing the ballot petitions to now challenging the initiative in court in a trial that could take up to five days.
“They’ve been making up lies,” Steyer said. “If I were them, I would be embarrassed to have come up with these extremely flimsy and dishonest tactics.”
The clean energy campaign turned in about 480,000 signatures and need 225,963 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Attorneys allege a huge chunk of the signatures are in invalid because they belong to people who are not registered to vote in Arizona, were collected by convicted felons — who are not allowed to collect signatures — or are simply fraudulent signatures, among a host of other objections to the collected signatures. Attorneys for Arizonans for Affordable Energy also charge the clean energy initiative knowingly submitted invalid signatures.
Arizonans for Affordable Electricity spokesman Matthew Benson fired back at Steyer, saying the clean energy campaign is built around fraud and deception.
“We believe Arizonans should set Arizona energy policies, not California billionaires,” he said in a statement. “We also believe Arizona families will reject Prop 127 once they learn it will double their electricity bills.”
The secretary of state’s office said this week that barring a legal upset in court next week, the clean energy initiative submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot as Proposition 127.
Steyer praised news of the initiative’s certification, taking it as a likely sign voters will get to decide on the renewable energy measure this fall.
The all-out fight APS has put up against the initiative is unlike any Steyer has seen before. He is pushing the same initiative in Nevada, where the state’s utility has taken a neutral stance. He also pushed a clean energy measure in Michigan this year, but in May, the state’s dominant utilities committed to increase their renewable energy output to 25 percent by 2030 in exchange for Steyer ending his ballot drive.
Steyer said he could see a similar outcome in Arizona, though he was skeptical APS would be willing to make a deal.
“From our standpoint, we would think that at some point, APS is going to realize they’re on the wrong side of history and they’re on the wrong side of this argument and they’re going to want to work out something sensible that the people of Arizona will like,” he said.
Benson did not comment when asked if APS would be willing to compromise on renewable energy issues. Steyer would not say how much money NextGen will pour into defending the ballot initiative if APS doesn’t try to settle.
APS and Republican politicians have tried to frame Steyer as a boogeyman-type who is meddling in Arizona politics. Steyer brushed off the attacks as “scare tactics.”
“I’m not dictating policy, we’re just trying to give Arizonans a say,” he said.
The most recent round of campaign finance reports showed Pinnacle West Corp., the parent company of APS poured $7.53 million into its fight against the clean energy measure. In comparison, Steyer’s group had put in $4.5 million.
Steyer was in the Valley on Friday for an event at Arizona State University, one of the 25 Arizona campuses where his NextGen Rising youth vote program is working to boost voter registration among young Arizonans. While Steyer has conducted his youth vote program in other states before, this is the first year he has rolled out such an initiative in Arizona — spending $3 million in the process.
NextGen has registered more than 9,000 new young Arizona voters so far this year, according to the group.
Despite creating the largest youth vote mobilization effort in America, most young voters don’t recognize Steyer.
“I think they think I’m an overdressed elderly gentleman,” said Steyer, 61.
Steyer, who is seen as a possible Democratic contender for president in 2020, has also fronted a push to impeach President Donald Trump.