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Legislature proper place for energy policy

Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A fundamental disagreement exists with the premise of Sen. Paul Boyer’s opinion article entitled Arizona’s energy mix is best set by the experts. That’s not the Legislature published in The Arizona Republic on November 17, 2021. The opinion piece attempts to put forth an argument that the Legislature is not the appropriate entity to set policy on Arizona’s energy mix. That is a false premise. The Legislature is, in fact, the appropriate venue to debate and set energy related policy. 

Sine Kerr

Two bills were referenced in the op-ed: House Bill 2248 and Senate Bill 1175. Both bills were heard in committee during the last legislative session. HB2248 was voted out of the House. SB1175 was heard and passed out of the Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee. The bill did not make it to a floor vote. Neither of the bills “flew under the radar” as the op-ed contends. Even though the bills were ultimately not successful, the legislative process was successful because energy policy was heard and debated in an open and transparent manner. 

Both bills sought to statutorily freeze an existing Arizona Corporation Commission renewable energy requirement directing regulated utilities to produce a minimum of 15% of their electricity from renewables by 2025 and prohibit the commission from setting a higher requirement, which they sought to modify by rule. The Legislature was constitutionally correct in its attempt to prohibit the commission from going further. And from a checks and balances perspective, these types of policy-based decisions are appropriately decided by a majority of 90 state legislators and the governor, rather than three of five Corporation Commission members. 

According to the Johnson Utilities case decided by the Arizona Supreme Court, the Legislature has clear authority to override the commission on clean energy mandates. The case further illustrated that the commission has exclusive ratemaking authority, and both bills affirmed that. However, the Johnson case narrowly defined ratemaking, including rate base determination, rate of return and cost allocation among ratepayer categories. The court also determined that clean energy requirements are not a rate-making function. Fuel choices and types of energy production are public policy decisions, which are best decided by a legislative body. 

The legislation did not prohibit the commission from exercising its ratemaking authority. The Legislature did not seek to take over the day-to-day regulatory function of the commission. The Legislature simply sought to exercise its constitutional authority as a policy-making body. 

Furthermore, stating that legislative resources are inadequate to set energy policy as insinuated in the op-ed is not accurate. Members of the Legislature and their staffs are capable of working on myriad policy issues, including solid energy related policy geared toward the best interest of Arizona’s ratepayers.  

The Legislature is also a more transparent and approachable body than the Corporation Commission. Any proposed energy policies would be vetted by numerous committees between the two legislative chambers, with ample opportunity for comments from the public. Indeed, vigorous debate at the Capitol ensures better policy for all Arizonans. 

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, represents Legislative District 13.   

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