ACC should raise Arizona’s anemic energy standards – now

Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011. A new report says installation continued to be the largest job sector in solar-related industries last year. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011.  (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

In 2006, Arizona had a mere 9 megawatts of solar capacity and no wind farms, so it was bold when the Arizona Corporation Commission required utilities to generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Arizona was an early adopter of a renewable standard, which at the time was competitive with neighboring states and gave rise to Arizona’s strong solar sector.

Today, Arizona generates the third most solar energy of any state in the nation. Wind capacity has leapt to 268 megawatts. The state’s largest utilities are investing heavily in solar and large-scale battery facilities, while the massive Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired plants utilized by APS have already closed or will shutter this year.

Yet Arizona’s renewable energy standard remains unchanged. No longer groundbreaking, it is among the most anemic in the sun-blessed West. It’s past time to raise the bar.

Interwest Energy Alliance participated in the ACC’s March stakeholder meetings, where staff presented a proposal to modernize the state’s energy rules, requiring utilities to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, while achieving 100% carbon-free status by 2045. But the process has been slow moving, and the time to push the proposal past the goalposts is now. Replacing coal and natural gas with renewable energy will be a boon to Arizona as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nate Blouin
Nate Blouin

Setting this goal would clear the skies in addition to boosting Arizona’s economy. A recent report from Ceres shows how:

  • Arizona’s current renewable energy standard spurred almost $12 billion in solar-industry investments, most of which flowed to rural communities. Today, renewable energy costs less than traditional fossil fuels. That means lower electric bills, a savings for businesses and homeowners.
  • The standard also drove nearly $2 billion in benefits to the public and customers of Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power, and reduced greenhouse gasses and water usage, according to a March 2020 report by Ceres.
  • Expanding the standard to require 50% renewable energy by 2030 would generate an additional $1 billion in net benefits over the next 10 years.

Utilities, which benefit from a healthy economy, understand these numbers. That’s why APS unilaterally set a goal of 45% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2050. The companies driving Arizona’s economy want clean energy, and a higher renewable standard will position Arizona businesses to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn quickly.

APS’s goals, however, are aspirational. They don’t have the oversight of a Corporation Commission standard, nor do they apply to all regulated utilities. This is why the commission’s action is so vital.

Recently, the Commission has shown bold leadership on the issue, with a renewed proposal for rigorous standards that has been supported by a majority of commissioners. The commission has the momentum to pass the updated standards quickly and should take action now.

Arizona needs aggressive, data-informed renewable energy standards. The Corporation Commission is expected to formally consider this proposal in July. Now is the time to express your support. For cleaner air. For greater innovation. For a vibrant economy. Let’s get it done.

Nate Blouin is policy manager for Interwest Energy Alliance, the intermountain region’s trade association of utility scale solar, wind and storage developers and manufacturers.

AG’s office changes wording on Prop 127 ballot

Cutline: In this screen capture of a political ad, APS is uses a picture of the ballot, with the revised language added by a top aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, to convince voters to reject Proposition 127.
Cutline: In this screen capture of a political ad, APS is uses a picture of the ballot, with the revised language added by a top aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, to convince voters to reject Proposition 127.

A key aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich altered language of the ballot description of Proposition 127 that the state’s top elections officer called “eyebrow raising” and the lawyer for initiative organizers said is designed to help Arizona Public Service convince voters to reject it.

Brunn Roysden took the explanation which state Elections Director Eric Spencer crafted on the renewable energy initiative and added the words that the change, if approved, would come “irrespective of cost to consumers.” That’s precisely the argument APS has been making against the measure.

And within days, a picture of the ballot with that new language showed up on an APS-financed TV ads.

A spokesman for Brnovich’s office said that Roysden, acting chief of the agency’s civil division, was within his legal rights to alter the description. And he said the explanation that came out of Spencer’s office came up short.

But Spencer, who said his original explanation was what Arizona law requires voters to be told, called the new verbiage added by Roysden “eyebrow raising” and suggested it comes with both legal and political risks.

The fight is over a ballot measure which would amend the Arizona Constitution to say that private utility companies must produce at least 50 percent of their electricity by 2030 from “renewable” sources. By contrast, the Arizona Corporation Commission, which has purview over those same companies, has a mandate of just 12 percent by 2020 and 15 percent by 2025.

APS the state’s largest utility has taken the lead in fighting the measure, first with an unsuccessful lawsuit to keep it from the November ballot and now with an expensive and extensive campaign under the banner of Arizonans for Affordable Electricity to convince voters that the mandate is a bad idea. And the central argument is the claim — disputed by Prop 127 organizers — that the requirement will lead to sharply higher rates for customers.

By law, the Secretary of State’s Office crafts the wording that appears on the actual ballots sent to voters.

Spencer’s proposed language said the initiative would require utilities to hit that 50 percent requirement by 2030, noting that is a 317 percent boost from the current 2020 mandate. It also mentions a requirement for utilities to boost what they get from “distributed generation,” essentially what they have to purchase from customers who have installed their own rooftop solar panels.

Roysden, whose office has to approve of final ballot language, struck some of what Spencer crafted and added a couple of points. One is that nuclear generation does not count as renewable.

But the language that has alarmed attorney Jim Barton and got the attention of Spencer spells out on the ballot that approval of Proposition 127 would impose the mandate “irrespective of cost to consumers.”

That’s precisely the argument being made by APS. But Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said that does not make it any less true.

He said that the current 15 percent mandate, having been enacted by utility regulators, can be changed if they conclude that reaching that goal would have a serious detrimental effect on ratepayers.

By contrast, Anderson said, Proposition 127 would put the mandate into the Arizona Constitution — and beyond the reach of the regulators. The only way to change it, he said, would be to put the issue back on the ballot.

The new description, which the Secretary of State’s Office is obliged to use, got the attention of Spencer who expressed his surprise in an email to Roysden obtained by Capitol Media Services.

“The Prop 127 language is certainly eyebrow-raising because it cites information exogenous to the ballot measure itself,” Spencer wrote, using a term to mean that the words in Roysden’s explanation are not taken from the ballot language itself but from outside factors.

“But, I’m sure you’ve calculated the legal and political risks of adding that,” Spencer added.

Anderson defended the added language, saying that the initiative, if approved by voters, will increase the amount of renewable energy utilities have to generate.

“That was done irrespective of the cost to consumers,” he said.

Anderson said the fact that Barton did not sue to strip that language is proof that even initiative supporters acknowledge the added words are accurate. But Barton said that’s not true.

Barton said he got a copy of the ballot description Aug. 29, the day before the ballots were to be sent to the printer. At that point, he said, it would be virtually impossible to convince a judge to order printing delayed while the issue was litigated.

And Barton said the law in Arizona works against those who would challenge a ballot description.

“The case law on it says it has to be either arbitrary or undeniably inaccurate,” Barton said. “It’s a very, very high standard to be able to get ballot language struck down.”

And there’s something else that bothers Barton.

Within days of Roysden adding the language to the official ballot description, APS had a TV commercial on the air with a picture of the revised wording, even highlighting the new “irrespective of costs to consumers” language.


“Collusion is a word that’s almost lost meaning,” Barton responded.

“I’m very suspicious of the use of that language in a commercial so soon after the language was released,” he continued. “I think it’s suspicious.”

Anderson denied that Roysden or anyone in the office got the added language from anyone at APS. And he said the new wording was not shared with the utility until it became public.

Anti-Trump group seeks to put energy policy on ballot

A national group led by a billionaire hoping to impeach Donald Trump is helping to fund an effort to force Arizona utilities to get half their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

And unlike a plan by Andy Tobin, what constitutes “renewable” does not include nuclear.

Bill Scheel, a Democratic consultant, is running David Garcia’s campaign for governor.
Bill Scheel

Bill Scheel, a campaign consultant helping set up the petition drive, said Monday there is a coalition of civic and health organizations who do not believe the current renewable energy standard goals set by the Arizona Corporation Commission are sufficient. They require investor-owned utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from what the regulators consider to be renewable — meaning pretty much anything but coal and natural gas.

Scheel said the coalition wants a more aggressive approach — and a focus on health versus energy savings.

“Arizona has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country, hundreds of thousands of asthma sufferers, many of them children,” he said.

“The biggest cause of this asthma epidemic is air pollution,” Scheel continued. “We’ve got to get cleaner air to make a dent in that number of asthma sufferers.”

Barbara Burkholder who handles legislative matters for the Arizona Asthma Coalition, acknowledged that vehicles also are a prime source of pollutants that can affect people. She said that is why her group is backing legislation to enact California-style emission limits on vehicles.

Burkholder said the effects of burning fossil fuels is not limited to those downwind.

She said these power plants pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which raises temperatures. And Burkholder said higher ambient temperatures increase the conversion of other pollutants into ground-level ozone which is a major irritant and cause of asthma and other breathing problems.

But Scheel said organizers of the initiative, do not believe it is appropriate to include nuclear power plants in what is considered renewable, even if they do not have smokestack emissions. Here, too, he said, that is because the focus is on health.

“One of the things we know is that the mining of uranium around the Grand Canyon and on the Navajo Reservation, in fact, has contributed to high rates of cancer in some of those communities,” Scheel said. “Nuclear is not clean and has health impacts right here in Arizona.”

Getting the 225,953 valid signatures by July 5 to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot won’t come cheap. Scheel said it will take “millions of dollars” not just to qualify for the ballot but then to convince Arizonans to support the measure in November.

That’s where NextGen America comes in, a political advocacy group set up by billionaire Tom Steyer.

“Climate issues are something that have always been really, really important to Tom,” said NextGen spokeswoman Aleigh Cavalier. More to the point, she said that Steyer has concluded that President Trump is not interested in environmental issues.

So Cavalier said he and NextGen have decided it can have the most impact on a state level, especially in places like Arizona, which allow voters to set policy at the ballot box. And she said Steyer and NextGen are prepared to do “whatever it takes” to qualify the measure for the November ballot and convince voters to go along.

Environmental issues aside, Steyer has not hidden his distaste for the president.

He spent $10 million on a television commercial to kick off a campaign to impeach Trump and another $10 million during the tax reform debate to both oppose the Republican plan and renew the call to oust the president. And Steyer announced just last month that he intends to put another $20 million into the dump Trump campaign.

But Cavalier said she does not believe that Steyer’s involvement will undermine the Arizona initiative.

“We know that combating climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy is overwhelmingly popular,” she said.

“This measure has bipartisan support,” Cavalier continued. “We are simply taking up a fight that’s important to Arizona.”

Andy Tobin
Andy Tobin

The initiative comes as Tobin, a state utility regulator, has trotted out his own plan to require the utilities subject to commission oversight, to reach an 80 percent renewable standard by 2050.

Tobin’s plan is far more comprehensive than simply a goal. It also includes requirements for everything from increased conservation efforts to energy storage to allow the electrons generated by wind and solar to be used when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun is not shining.

As to his inclusion of nuclear in that mix, Tobin said the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix was built with consumer dollars. He questioned the advisability of simply abandoning the three-unit plant.

Commission staffers estimate that 26 percent of the power produced in Arizona comes from nuclear.

Anyway, Tobin said it’s an open question of whether Palo Verde will even be operating by 2050 or will have been decommissioned.

Tobin said his proposal also has health benefits. For example, he wants to include the burning of “biomass” to generate power in the list of renewables. Tobin said that makes environmental sense, as clearing the forest of overgrowth will reduce the fuel for fires that cause massive smoke pollution.

The initiative already is getting opposition from Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry who lashed out at “a campaign waged by an out-of-state political activist who won’t have to live with the consequences.” Hamer also said he favors having the commission set policy, at least in part because it can be amended if necessary; voter-approved measures can only be changed by taking the question back to the ballot.

“Why would we want to lock ourselves into one policy prescription when new technologies and scientific findings might emerge on the horizon?” he asked.

Joe Salkowski, spokesman for Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Services said the companies cannot comment on the initiative until they see the details. But he said they support the general goals of what Tobin is pushing, saying they promote reliability, efficiency and economic development.

But Salkowski, who said the companies are already moving to more renewables and energy storage, said it has not yet taken a formal position on the Tobin plan.

APS executive makes no promises on future political spending

Don Brandt, center, CEO of Arizona Public Service and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., appears before the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Tom Tingle, Pool)
Don Brandt, center, CEO of Arizona Public Service and its parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corp., appears before the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Tom Tingle, Pool)

The incoming chief executive of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. refused Wednesday to promise that the company won’t spend money in the future to elect utility regulators of its choosing.

Jeff Guldner told members of the Arizona Corporation Commission that he wasn’t saying there would be a repeat performance of what happened in 2014 and 2016 when the parent company of Arizona Public Service put a combined $15 million into campaigns to elect members of the panel. But Guldner said he cannot give a firm answer because he does not take over from Don Brandt, the current CEO, until Nov. 15.

That answer left commission Chairman Bob Burns unsatisfied, particularly as the commission is constitutionally precluded from barring APS or any other utility from getting involved in political campaigns.

Burns told Guldner that he wants that commitment after he takes over – or else.

“I would suggest that if we do not receive that commitment from APS, maybe we need to change the way that we go about determining return on equity,” the chairman said, suggesting that perhaps the entire board of Pinnacle West should come to the commission the next time APS requests a rate hike.

“I think we would have the opportunity to do a little negotiation and have a settlement right then and there.”

Burns also charged that the political spending is part of a larger plan by Pinnacle West to “capture” the commission to ensure that it got the decisions the company wanted on issues like requests for higher rates. And Burns even charged that Gov. Doug Ducey has had a hand in the process, including the appointment of Andy Tobin to the panel, an appointment Burns said was very “disruptive.”

Bob Burns explains why he was the lone vote against selecting Tom Forese as new chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Bob Burns (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

“I have no proof,” Burns conceded later to Capitol Media Services. “But it smells.”

“This is the first time we’ve heard a lot of these concerns,” said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak. He said the commission does its job and the governor does his, including filling vacancies on the commission as constitutionally required.

Tobin has since resigned to take a job in the Ducey administration, with the governor appointing Lea Marquez Peterson to replace him.

Burns wasn’t the only one with sharp comments about Pinnacle West – and specifically the way Brandt has run the company for the past dozen years.

Commissioner Sandra Kennedy told Brandt he “behaves like a kingpin,” operating Pinnacle West in a way to benefit only to the company to the detriment of its customers and the public at large.

“You have, in essence, created a machine to purchase any and every elected official and defeat anyone in your way,” she said.

The daylong hearing was called in the wake of the discovery that a Sun City West woman had died last year of heat-related conditions after APS disconnected her power on a 107-degree day after the failure to pay $51 of a $176 bill. And there were several pointed questions about what commissioners saw as the failure to provide Stephanie Pullman with adequate notice.

But much of the discussion centered around the policies of Pinnacle West in spending money on elections.

Sandra Kennedy
Sandra Kennedy

Burns cited reports that showed Pinnacle West and APS had looked at plans as far back as 2009 to set up and fund “grassroots” organizations with the specific goal of convincing Arizonans that the decisions being made by the Arizona Corporation Commission were contrary to the interests of the public and ratepayers.

Then in 2013, company lobbyist Jessica Pacheco hosted a fundraiser at the Phoenix Country Club for Justin Pierce in his race for secretary of state at a time his father, Gary, was a commissioner.

That took a more concrete form in 2014 when Pinnacle West quietly funneled money through other groups, including the Free Enterprise Club, the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association and Save Our Future Now to undermine the campaigns of some Republicans who were seeking commission seats because they were supportive of requiring utilities to get more of their power from solar and other renewable sources.

All totaled Pinnacle West spent $10.7 million on that race, with the outcome being the successful campaigns of the two Republicans it backed.

Attorney William Maledon, who represents the company, confirmed Wednesday that an FBI probe into expenditures made in the 2014 race remain under investigation. He declined to provide specifics citing confidentiality requirements.

In 2016 the company was above board in the spending of $4.2 million to ensure the commission remained an all-Republican affair.

There was no reported spending on candidates in 2018, with Pinnacle West instead putting more than $30 million into a statewide campaign to defeat a ballot measure that would have mandated the use of more renewable energy.

Commissioner Boyd Dunn pointed out that the panel, by itself, is powerless to limit corporate spending on campaigns, even when it is by a utility to elect preferred regulators. But he said that’s not an answer.

“Because it is legal it does not make it right,” he told Brandt.

Commissioner Justin Olson agreed.

“Our utilities should not spend money electing their regulators,” he said.

There also was some kickback from Pinnacle West when the questions got very specific about exactly what happened in the Pullman case.

State utility regulator Boyd Dunn July 10, 2019, at the Corporation Commission. Dunn wants changes to ethics rules to disqualify commissioners from voting on matters when they have received campaign help from someone involved in the case. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Boyd Dunn (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The utility recently settled out of court with the family. And Maledon said family members have asked that the specifics of the case not become a part of the hearing on disconnection policies.

That explanation left Kennedy unsatisfied.

“We should know what happened,” she said, telling Maledon that the company settled with the family to keep from having to answer questions.

But some details did emerge.

Daniel Froestcher, an APS vice president, acknowledged that no one actually made personal contact with Pullman, instead leaving a notice on her front door. That annoyed Dunn.

“A lot of us in the summer are not using the front door,” he said, instead entering the house through the carport. And Dunn questioned why no one actually bothered to knock on her door.

Froestcher told commissioners he used to do the job of contacting customers.

“I had dogs released on me,” he said. “I have been verbally threatened and one time I had a weapon pulled on me.”

Hence the change in policy. But that drew a skeptical response from Dunn who questioned how likely it was that people living in what is largely a retirement community are a threat.

Froestcher said it’s a system-wide policy, with APS serving customers in 11 of the state’s 15 counties.

Brandt deflected multiple questions from Kennedy who complained about the rates and customer service.

“The reality is, for the vast majority of our customers, electricity is a bargain,” he said, citing national figures that show the average household spends just 1.6 percent of its take-home pay on power.

APS had no similar figures for its own customers. But Brandt defended the charges.

“Research shows a vast majority of our customers are not concerned with their electric bill.”

Brandt also defended company spending on things like sponsorships, like having the APS logo displayed at sports arenas.

“It projects a positive image,” he said, telling commissioners that the cost of these – he provided no figures – comes from corporate profits and not from direct customer payments.

Arizona needs balanced approach to renewable energy policies


In our highly charged political environment, the question of whether to incorporate more renewable energy resources as part of our overall energy infrastructure is—as with most issues—often viewed in the prism of being either “left” or “right.”  Unfortunately, this simplistic view distorts an increasingly important issue, and one that has much deeper significance than whether, from a political perspective, conservatives or liberals perceive renewable energy positively or negatively. In fact, transitioning to a more robust renewable energy portfolio has important implications for air quality, water supply, economic development, and national security.

Jaime Molera
Jaime Molera

Recently, representatives from our state’s utilities, business community, and political leaders met in a forum to discuss the value of expanding the sources that make up our electric grid, and the consensus was clear: the value of diversifying our energy portfolio and expanding our utilization of renewable energy options is not a left or right question, but an imperative that will have significant impacts on our state.

The forum was hosted by Greater Phoenix Leadership in conjunction with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Chamber, The Western Way, and moderated by Pat Graham of The Nature Conservancy. The impetus for the forum was a visit by retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn of the CNA Military Advisory Board, who gave a compelling presentation on how additional renewable energy facilities can enhance the national security of our electric grid; essentially, the message was that by diversifying the number and types of sources we use for energy generation, we make it more difficult for those who wish to do us harm to target our energy supplies.

Aside from the national security imperative, it is clear that the promotion of clean energy (e.g. solar energy creation and storage, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicle adoption, etc.) has significant positive impacts for Arizona from an air quality and water supply standpoint, not to mention augmenting economic development opportunities.  APS and SRP are committing significant resources to this end and should be commended for their aggressive approaches to Arizona renewable infrastructure.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

Regarding air quality, we know that Arizona struggles with air quality problems, which results not only in consequences for public health but for Arizona’s economy as well. That is because, when a state is out of compliance with air quality standards—or close to that limit—federal environmental regulations limit opportunities for manufacturing and business growth and expansion unless the state can show how it will offset the additional emissions that economic expansion might produce.


Yet, by investing in renewable energy technology, Arizona’s businesses, both new and expanding, can pursue development opportunities while still complying with federal air quality standards. For example, when an Arizona business voluntarily institutes a program to incentivize its employees to carpool or drive electric vehicles to work, the reduction in vehicle emissions can be used as an offset toward obtaining the necessary air quality permit for expansion. In general, Arizona’s business community will be well served by promoting these types of emission reduction credits (ERCs), since there is no maximum limit on the amount of eligible reductions. In Maricopa County especially, air quality concerns are significant, and expanding the use of ERCs by, for example, installing workplace electric vehicle charging stations, will provide certainty that economic expansion will not be hindered by the federal environmental regulations.

With respect to water, recent analyses from various private and public entities continue to underscore the need to address Arizona’s current and future water supply needs. Although Arizona did significant work in 2019 to address surface water challenges through the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, it is clear that there is much work left to be done to address Arizona’s long-term needs. Here too, there is a robust nexus with renewable energy. Unlike traditional electricity generation, solar energy requires significantly less water. Continuing to invest in solar energy technology and other less water-intensive methods of electricity generation provides a real opportunity to accommodate our state’s growing energy needs while being mindful of our water usage.

Today’s political climate has become an all-or-nothing, zero sum game. When it comes to energy policy, too often those on the right ignore real environmental and conservation problems, and those on the left ignore legitimate concerns about loss of employment, economic growth, and individual freedom due to overburdensome government regulation.

It is time to move away from a polarized approach to renewable energy. Fortunately, Arizona businesses understand that a balanced approach to major policies facing the state is possible. Gov. Doug Ducey emphasized this point in his recent State of the State address, it is what we in Arizona call the “Arizona Way.” There is a genuine interest and commitment in moving toward, promoting, and expanding renewable energy development and usage.  Arizona is in a premier position to move past the “right vs. left” arguments and pursue policies that embrace a meaningful renewable energy platform that will benefit our great state for many decades to come.

Jaime Molera is a partner with Molera Alvarez and Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Arizona benefits from diverse energy mix – including coal, nuclear


Thanks to helpful geography, Arizona is enjoying something of an energy breakthrough. In 2017, Arizona’s electricity generation from solar power exceeded its hydroelectric output for the first time. And the state now ranks second in the nation in solar generation.

Overall, nuclear power, coal, and natural gas still carry the major load, though, contributing a combined 88 percent of Arizona’s utility-scale electricity generation. And anchoring it all is the Palo Verde Nuclear Station, the largest nuclear power plant in the nation and the largest net generator of electricity. Solar isn’t insignificant, though. Thanks to clear Southwestern skies, Arizona’s solar sector produced roughly 6 percent of the state’s net electricity in 2017.

Terry Jarrett
Terry Jarrett

Such a diverse energy mix has benefited Arizona residents. In January 2019, residential electricity prices amounted to 12.22 cents per kilowatt-hour, lower than the national average of 12.47 cents. Much of this can be attributed to the sturdy coal and nuclear power plants that have ensured the state’s baseload generation for decades.

But what about a trend emerging in some states — to scrap coal and nuclear in favor of natural gas and renewables? Would such a shift have significant repercussions for Arizona?

While Arizona has plentiful sun exposure, there are still limitations for renewables. Both wind and solar perennially require robust back-up systems for when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The Department of Energy estimates that even the most advanced wind turbines reach their full capacity only 42.5 percent of the time. And the highest-performing solar panels — like the ones in Arizona that feature sun-tracking motors — reach their full capacity an even lower 30 percent of the time. Filling these gaps often requires on-demand energy from “spinning reserves” of natural gas and coal-fired power generation.

Unfortunately, battery storage has yet to prove an all-purpose solution for such shortfalls. The best grid-scale battery technologies currently available can only provide hours of backup. That’s simply not enough to compensate during days — and even weeks — of low wind or solar output.

America’s energy profile is already changing, though. Since 2010, roughly 40 percent of America’s coal fleet has been shut down or designated for closure. And six nuclear plants have closed since 2013, with more closures planned by 2025.

These coal and nuclear plants possess one clear advantage, though. They store fuel on-site, and can run non-stop for months at a time. In contrast, wind and solar are dependent on optimum weather conditions. And natural gas is similarly challenged, since it relies on continuous fueling from a vast nationwide pipeline system. Arizona already understands the volatility of such a complicated pipeline arrangement – in December 2018, residential natural gas prices in Arizona rose to 27 percent above the national average.

Industry experts are now growing concerned about the weather and delivery challenges faced by renewables and natural gas. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently cautioned that a rapid shift to clean energy and natural gas “could leave the bulk power system vulnerable to fuel delivery risks in areas where firm pipeline service is not procured.” And in January, the heads of four major U.S. utility providers expressed concern that a lack of “fuel security and fuel diversity” could limit overall electricity production.

Undoubtedly, natural gas and renewables are gaining prominence in Arizona and the nation. But it makes sense to keep all options on the table. In Arizona, coal and nuclear power have proven reliable for decades. They should continue to be part of an all-of-the-above energy mix alongside natural gas and solar for years to come.

Terry M. Jarrett is an energy attorney and consultant who has served on both the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Arizona Public Service vows all clean power by 2050

Jeff Guldner (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Jeff Guldner (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona’s largest electric utility said January 22 that it plans to switch to 100% carbon-neutral power generation by 2050, a sharp turnaround from a company that spent tens of millions of dollars two years ago to fight a ballot measure requiring it to use renewable sources.

The move by Arizona Public Service is the latest in a string of targets set by states or utilities in the U.S. West to go carbon neutral as climate change pushes the region away from traditional sources like coal. Domestic coal-fired power generation has declined 40% over the past decade, contributing to a steep decline in coal mining and several bankruptcies.

APS Chairman and CEO Jeff Guldner said the plan is different than the defeated ballot measure known as Proposition 127, which would have required utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030. The new plan comes close to that but can be changed if needed.

“Flexibility is always the best thing to have when you’re dealing with future energy policy,” Guldner said. “The biggest concern we had with 127 is there was no flexibility. It would have been ingrained in the (state) Constitution.”

As part of the plan, the company will close a major New Mexico coal-fired power plant seven years early but rely on the nation’s largest nuclear power plant as it adds renewable power, battery storage and other sources.

The company operates and owns the majority of the massive Four Corners Power Plant outside Farmington, New Mexico. It uses coal from a mine in the Navajo Nation, and 80% of its 327 workers are Native American.


The company plans to keep relying on the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix to provide about 25% of its power past 2050. The three-reactor plant is the largest in the nation and will be more than 60 years old by then. It produces power with no carbon emissions.

By 2030, APS expects 65% of its power to be carbon neutral, including 45% from renewable sources. The company spent $38 million in 2018 to fight a proposal requiring half its power come from renewables by the same year.

In the U.S. West, major utilities in New Mexico and Colorado have announced similar plans. California plans to be carbon neutral by 2045, while Nevada passed a law requiring 50% renewable power by 2030.

APS expects to use utility-scale solar power plants, greatly increase battery storage and see growth in rooftop solar. Homeowners are installing solar panels even after Arizona regulators cut the amount they can get for pumping excess power back into the grid. Natural gas will be a significant bridge as the company seeks new technology to replace gas power plants.

APS will stop using coal for power generation by 2031, when it plans to end operations at Four Corners. A major plant in northeastern Arizona that APS bought power from closed last year, and it plans to shutter the two units its owns at the Cholla Power Plant in eastern Arizona in 2025.

Burning oil and coal emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is fueling rising global temperatures and climate change.

The Arizona utility, owned by a publicly traded holding company known as Pinnacle West Capital Corp., serves 2.7 million people.

APS came under fire in recent years for spending millions to back favored candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities and must approve the company’s plans, including rate increases.

Guldner, who took over as CEO in November, told regulators this month that the utility won’t spend on future commission elections.

The decision to move to carbon-free power by 2050 was partially driven by public support for ideas behind the ballot proposal, Guldner said. The measure was initially popular but lost by a wide margin after APS spent big to highlight its costs to consumers. APS also has been hearing from major customers and others about clean power.


Clean power advocates praised the company’s plan but said it was clear APS could have met the terms of the 2018 ballot proposal.

“We think it’s a good start,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Obviously, we need to be going carbon free. Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and it’s certainly affecting us big time here in Arizona.”

Tom Steyer, a Democratic presidential candidate and billionaire who funded much of the campaign backing the proposition, called the announcement “a huge win for the people of Arizona.”

“Our efforts behind Proposition 127 in 2018 have moved the state to a clean energy future,” he said in a statement.

APS aims to send a clear message to industries supplying utilities that it needs innovative ideas to boost carbon-neutral power.

“That 2050 piece is not just a symbolic commitment,” Guldner said. “It’s meant to be a signal that says this lets us focus on solving the gaps in the technology and the gaps we have today so that we can get there.”

Arizona voters should reject big green tax on poor


Liberals love to talk about helping the poor and the middle class, so why are they pushing one of the most regressive taxes in modern times?

Proposition 127 would require half of Arizona electric power production by 2030 to come mostly from wind and solar power. Green groups and activists like billionaire Tom Steyer say that Prop. 127 will be virtually cost-free to Arizonans. Really? In my study for the Goldwater Institute, I examined the disappointing results of states like California, New York, and Vermont, which have been duped into similar energy regulations. States with renewable mandates of 50 percent or more, as required by 127, have average power costs that are roughly 50 percent higher than states that allow utilities to buy the cheapest energy from the power grid.

Stephen Moore
Stephen Moore

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that California, which has already moved to a 50 percent green energy mandate, charges businesses and families 67 percent more for electricity than cheaper states like Arizona. Thanks in part to its stringent renewable mandate, the WSJ reports, “California electricity rates have surged 30 percent since 2011 compared to an 8 percent increase nationwide.”

Florida, by contrast, which uses natural gas, solar energy, clean coal, and nuclear power and doesn’t have a clean energy mandate, has seen its utility costs fall by 3 percent over this same period. Does Arizona want to be like high-cost California or low-cost Florida?

Prop. 127’s hardest-hit victims will be low-income families. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the poor pay about five times more of their income on energy than rich families do. The energy mandate is Robin Hood in reverse: It steals from the poor to subsidize the rich.

These price hikes might make some sense if the scheme would actually clean the air—but it won’t. The mandate doesn’t include nuclear power or natural gas as “clean energy” sources, even though they’re among the environmentally safest producers of energy. Even coal-burning plants are far cleaner today than 30 years ago with pollution reductions of 30, 40 and even 50 percent for lead, carbon monoxide, and smog.

The initiative would foolishly restrict Arizona’s natural gas use at a time when America is in the midst of the biggest shale gas boom in history. Natural gas prices have fallen over the past decade by 70 percent, thanks to domestic shale gas production. Conversion to natural gas is the reason the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than virtually any other nation over the last decade.

Nuclear energy is even cleaner because it emits virtually zero air pollutants into the atmosphere. Why would a green mandate exclude nuclear and potentially force the closure of the Palo Verde plant employing hundreds of Arizonans?

Yes, sunny Arizona is an ideal state for solar power. As it gets cheaper, the state should use solar whenever it makes financial sense. But politicians shouldn’t force you to buy it regardless of cost. It doesn’t make sense to insert into the state Constitution a requirement on energy use that locks Arizona into 50 percent wind and solar. Betting the state’s financial future and job base on wind and solar power is a huge risk to Arizona’s economic health.

— Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of “Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy” (Regnery, 2015). His new study for the Goldwater Institute is: “Arizona’s ‘Clean Energy’ Initiative: All Pain, No Gain.”


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Arizona’s electric grid has vulnerabilities, but there are solutions


Serving as the vice chairman of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board and having served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years, I can assure you that having reliable, accessible, sustainable, and affordable electric power is a national security imperative.

Increasingly, the energy that meets those criteria comes from advanced sources. And a grid of the future is smarter, cleaner, diversified, and taps into reliable, locally accessed energy sources.

The grid of the future will make our country more secure.

Lee Gunn
Lee Gunn

Forward-thinking action by Arizona leaders – policymakers, the business community and utilities alike – toward incorporating more advanced energy solutions like renewable energy, electric vehicles and distributed generation into the local grid can increase Arizona’s energy security and benefit the state, consumers and our collective overall national security.

Earlier this month I warned the the Arizona Corporation Commission that the vulnerability of our electrical grid today, and its security in the future constitute major issues for the United States, and Arizona is a key node in the western power grid.

As we diversify our energy portfolio and add more renewable energy resources onto our grid, this is also the time to secure it. Expanding Arizona’s investments in its vast renewable energy resources will help further the United States’ energy independence and at the same time better secure the state against outside threats.

We all have some work to do to help us get there. First and most problematic is the design of the electrical grid we have. It is based on a 100-year-old model and 100-year-old technology of large power generation plants and thousands of miles of high voltage AC transmission lines.

This results in three big problems:

  • Nearly everything is exposed and accessible making it at risk to a wide variety of threats including severe weather, physical and cyber-attack and accidents associated with age and human error.
  • The transmission lines have huge energy losses – nearly half of the energy we generate is lost in transmission.
  • The U.S. grid is divided into only three major grids, East, West and Texas – if one part goes down – is targeted – it could take down up to 1/3 of the country.

Through great U.S. ingenuity and technology, we can work our way out of this mess. Much of the technology we need already exists and we are on the verge of breakthroughs on others.

State government policy can be a driver or a barrier to advanced energy innovation and adoption. As seen in other states, incentives such as tax credits and strong renewable standards have accelerated the development and deployment of advanced energy.

For Arizona, a state with abundant sunshine, renewable energy is one of the most accessible and sustainable power sources. Arizona can and should lead the nation in renewable energy production with 299 days a year of abundant sunshine. Arizona’s renewable resources can deliver, if deployed at scale, costs below those on the global market.

Yet, Arizona’s current Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, or REST, requires regulated utilities to generate (or purchase) just 15% of total electricity sold from clean sources by 2025. When Arizona’s REST first took effect 12 years ago, it was one of the leading clean energy standards in the United States, but since then, all of the states surrounding Arizona have enacted higher renewable energy standards: California is 60% by 2030, Colorado is 30% by 2020, Nevada is 50% by 2030, New Mexico is 80% by 2040, and Utah is 20% by 2025.

An updated renewable standard coupled with more competitive renewable energy source bidding could save money for ratepayers. This would also demonstrate that Arizona is willing to join neighboring states in meeting all these challenges, to accelerate the adoption of advanced energy and help lead in the development of the secure grid that is vital for our country.

Diversifying Arizona’s investments in its plentiful renewable energy resources will also help further the nation’s energy independence and better secure the state and our grid against outside threats. States around the country are showing that we can build resilient, reliable electric systems based primarily on advanced energy innovation and technologies that take advantage of new energy storage systems.

A wider portfolio of energy options will boost Arizona’s renewable energy leadership and attract new businesses and economic investments, the kinds of businesses and investors that value clean and green efforts. Strong leadership and investment in renewable energy can provide Arizona a competitive and security advantage.

If any state can seize the opportunity to build the grid of the future – smarter, better, cleaner and local – it is Arizona. We can also achieve domestic energy independence –producing all the energy we need, now and in the future – by committing to the rapid deployment of advanced energy systems in places like Arizona.

Admiral Lee Gunn, U.S. Navy (retired), is vice chairman of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board

Brnovich sues Prop 127 campaign over political ads

Claiming he’s been defamed, Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing the backers of the Proposition 127 campaign for telling what he said are lies about him.

Legal papers filed Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court claim commercials paid for by the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee say there is a link between Brnovich’s changes to the Proposition 127 ballot description and money from the parent company of Arizona Public Service to help his reelection campaign.

Brnovich said there was no communication between him and the state’s largest electric utility as he crafted the ballot language and added that the new renewable energy mandate, if approved, would occur “irrespective of cost to consumers.” And he defended that language even though state Elections Director Eric Spencer, a Republican like Brnovich, called it “eyebrow raising” and suggested the changes come with both political and legal risks.

But what most offends Brnovich – and a key basis for the lawsuit – are contentions in commercials paid for by the committee that the attorney general is “corrupt” and that he was helping to “rig” the election.

With early voting already started and the election just two weeks away, Brnovich is not asking a judge to order the commercials halted. Instead he is seeking unspecified damages and a punitive award “to punish defendants and deter it and others from emulating defendants’ conduct.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Attorney Dennis Wilenchik who represents Brnovich acknowledged the question of the damage to his client’s reputation – assuming he wins the lawsuit – cannot for the moment be quantified.

If Brnovich wins his race against Democrat January Contreras, Wilenchik said it may be his client would simply seek his legal fees.

And if he loses?

The most visible damages would be the loss of his $90,000 salary. But Wilenchik said that charging publicly that Brnovich, as a state official, is corrupt, is “extremely hurtful” to his career.

“He’s a lawyer,” Wilenchik said.

“There could be Bar complaints about him,” he continued. “After the election, we’ll assess that.”

In a prepared statement, D.J. Quinlan, spokesman for the Proposition 127 campaign, said the lawsuit “will fail.”

At the heart of the issue is the role the attorney general plays in elections.

By law, the explanations that appear on the ballot of propositions are crafted by the secretary of state, subject to review and alternations by the attorney general.

Proposition 127 would constitutionally require most utilities to obtain half of their power from renewable sources by 2030. That would override the current policy of the Arizona Corporation Commission which sets a 15 percent renewable goal by 2025.

That policy is subject to review and amendment based on changing factors, including cost. The initiative has no such escape clause.

Based on that, Brnovich added verbiage to the ballot language to say that the 50-percent mandate, if approved, would come “irrespective of cost to consumers.” That is precisely the argument APS has been making against the measure, with the utility within days then using the explanation in its commercials.

The TV ads financed by the pro-127 organization accuse Brnovich of doing the company’s bidding, even superimposing APS logos on his suit jacket similar to the outfit of a NASCAR driver.

More to the point, the ad cites the more than $400,000 that Pinnacle West Capital Corp. gave to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a group that in turn has spent more than $1.2 million to win Brnovich another term.

“He rigged official ballot language to help APS block affordable solar,” the commercial says, urging voters to “say no to corruption and higher bills” and telling people to vote against Brnovich and in favor of the initiative.

Wilenchik said there are several problems, starting with the fact that any money APS and Pinnacle West gave to the national association was not earmarked to help Brnovich. And he said Brnovich had no communications with APS about the change in ballot wording, saying the added verbiage is factually accurate.

But he said the wording of the commercials is “patently false,” with words like “rig” implying that someone illegally and wrongfully interfered with an election.

“Nothing of the sort occurred here,” Wilenchik said. And he said Brnovich did not “manipulate” the ballot language “but rather exercised his duty as Arizona attorney general to assure that the descriptions of ballot measures are fair and accurate and provide necessary and appropriate information to the voting public.”

He also brushed aside Spencer’s comments about the changes being “eyebrow raising,” saying that Spencer himself sought to include language in the explanation of Proposition 127 that Brnovich believed would have been designed to sway voters.

Spencer, in an email to the Attorney General’s Office responding to the proposed addition, said the new language “is certainly eyebrow-raising because it cites information exogenous to the ballot measure itself.” That term means that the words in the explanation are not taken from the ballot language itself but from outside factors.

“But I’m sure you’ve calculated the legal and political risks of adding that,” Spencer added.

Brnovich, Contreras debate on cases AG has taken

From left are Attorney General Mark Brnovich, debate host Ted Simons of KAET, and Democratic AG candidate January Contreras. Brnovich and Contreras squared off in a televised debate Oct. 10, 2018. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
From left are Attorney General Mark Brnovich, debate host Ted Simons of KAET, and Democratic AG candidate January Contreras. Brnovich and Contreras squared off in a televised debate Oct. 10, 2018. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich found himself defending the decisions he made to challenge various federal laws, challenges that his Democrat foe said Wednesday worked against the interests of average Arizonans.

During a televised debate on KAET-TV, January Contreras lashed out at Brnovich for working to overturn a decision by the Obama administration to put about a million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon off limits to mining. Federal appellate judges did not agree with him.

Brnovich has had no better luck in joining with other Republican attorneys general to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its mandate to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And Brnovich also sided with Americans for Prosperity in challenging a California law that would require the organization, part of the Koch brothers network, to disclose its donors.

All that, Contreras charged, showed that Brnovich during his four years as attorney general was more interested in pursuing cases that helped special interests than those that help average Arizonans.

Brnovich said that Contreras, a former assistant attorney general under Democrat Janet Napolitano, would follow her own political agenda if she was in charge of the office.

His prime example is the challenge his office filed against the Maricopa community colleges over the decision to charge resident tuition to “dreamers.”

“I would not have litigated that case,” Contreras conceded. She said that’s because she believed that they were entitled to in-state tuition if they met other Arizona residency requirements.

Contreras pointed out that those accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were entitled by the federal government to not only remain but also to work.

But Brnovich said that ignores the role of the Attorney General’s Office.

He pointed out that Arizonans voted by a 2-1 margin in 2006 to spell out that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or is “without lawful immigration status,” is ineligible to be charged the same tuition as residents at state colleges and universities.

“Even if you don’t like the policy, you have to defend it,” Brnovich said.

“As prosecutors, we enforce the law,” he said. “If you don’t like the law, you run for governor, you run for the Legislature or you run for Congress.”

Ultimately the Arizona Supreme Court sided with Brnovich and concluded that DACA recipients are not entitled to resident tuition.

As to the other cases Brnovich did pursue – and lost – the incumbent defended his decisions.

Take the mining case where he supported a challenge by the National Mining Association to the 2012 decision by the Obama administration to put a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon. The Department of Interior said that would provide the time to study the effects of new mining on the environment, particularly water quality.

“As Arizona’s attorney general, when the federal government and the Obama administration tried to unilaterally remove one million acres of land without any congressional veto, I thought it was important,” Brnovich said. “We want to make sure we have a check on the federal government.”

Contreras said she has no problem with an attorney general seeking to exercise a check on the power of the federal government. But she argued that Brnovich was choosing the wrong issues — and the wrong side.

“You look at the separation of kids and parents at the border,” she said, noting that some attorneys general – but not Brnovich – went to federal court to protect the constitutional rights of those involved.

“What is alarming to me is how often, in the case of the cases I’m talking about, it’s aligning with political donors,” she said.

That question of money and politics spilled into the decision in August by Brnovich to alter the description of Proposition 127, a mandate that utilities use more renewable energy. The Secretary of State’s Office originally wrote the description. Brnovich added language that some considered to be unfair and uneven.

Contreras charged that Brnovich was influenced by money that Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service, has given to the Republican Attorneys General Association; RAGA, in turn, helped Brnovich get elected in 2014 and is spending money on his reelection campaign.

Brnovich responded that California billionaire Tom Steyer, who is financing the Prop 127 campaign, is now funding a $3.6 million media campaign urging Arizonans to turn him out of office. He called such out-of-state influence to help Contreras win the race “improper.”

“I think it’s funny coming from you when you have Arizona in a California courtroom defending the secrecy of donors to the Koch brothers network,” Contreras responded.

In that case, Americans for Prosperity sought to overturn a California law that requires certain nonprofit corporations to submit on a confidential basis a report of their large donors to that state’s attorney general as part of enforcing its laws governing tax-exempt groups. While Arizona was not affected — and Arizona has no similar laws – Brnovich submitted an amicus brief urging the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that California had no “legitimate governmental interest” in such a mandate.

The federal appellate court concluded otherwise.

After the debate, Brnovich defended his decision to intercede on behalf of Americans for Prosperity. He said forcing release of the names of donors amounts to “trying to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Brnovich said even if he did take positions on these cases that does not reflect the vast majority of how his office has operated.

“My opponent wants to point out one or two or three cases,” he said.

“We have almost 500 lawyers in our office,” Brnovich continued. “What we do touches people’s lives every day.”

Campaigns spend nearly $54 million on renewable energy ballot measure


The state’s largest electric company has now poured more than $30 million into its bid to convince Arizonans not to force it and other utilities to use more renewable resources.

And the spending by Arizona Public Service under the banner of Arizonans for Affordable Energy doesn’t count another more than $734,000 pumped into the campaign against Proposition 127 by rural electric cooperatives, plus about $165,000 from Unisource Energy, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power.

That’s not to say the dollars are all on one side of the issue.

Citizens for a Healthy Arizona, financed largely by a political action committee formed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, already had spent close to $24 million by Oct. 20, the last day of the reporting period for the newly filed disclosure forms.

The initiative would require utilities to obtain half of their power from renewable sources by 2030, a list that includes solar, geothermal and wind. By contrast, the current rules adopted by the Arizona Corporation Commission mandate just a 15 percent renewable standard by 2025.

Only one other ballot measure has attracted that much cash.

Citizens for Fair Tax Policy, funded by state and national Realtors have plowed about $23.6 million into its campaign to amend the Arizona Constitution to forever bar lawmakers from expanding the state sales tax to include services. That would include everything from medical and veterinary care to tax preparation, accounting and real estate services.

The newly formed opposition group called No on126 has accumulated donations of less than $123,000. And the lion’s share of that comes from Stand for Children, a nonprofit group that advocates for issues like early childhood literacy.

Much farther back in the cash department is Save our Schools Arizona which is trying to convince voters to overturn the 2017 legislation that allows any of the 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools to seek vouchers of state tax dollars to attend private or parochial schools. That organization’s spending is approaching $600,000.

Most of that group’s money urging a “no” vote on Proposition 305 comes from a separate nonprofit also operating under the same name which is allowed to accept donations without disclosing its sources.

On the other side of the battle is the Yes for Ed committee with just $53,000 in donations.

Its campaign finance reports show close to half of that coming from Every Child Can Learn, a Phoenix corporation run by Phoenix businesswoman Lynn Londen. She said the organization, formed years ago to advocate for things like education reform and school choice, gets most of its money from her family-run businesses.

Arizonans Against Dark Money has collected only about $10,500 in its support of Proposition 306.

That measure would prohibit publicly funded candidates from spending any of their cash with political parties. It also would subject the rules of the bipartisan Citizens Clean Elections Commission to the oversight of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council whose members are all appointees of Doug Ducey.

The campaign against Prop 306 is better funded, with the latest reports showing The Future We Want with nearly $322,000 in expenses.

Most of that comes from Citizens for Accountable Government. And a check of that organization’s finance records finds its money generated from various labor unions.

The Future We Want also has put another nearly $7,000 into a campaign against Proposition 125. That measure would make constitutional changes in the benefits for those in state retirement plans for corrections officers and elected officials, a move proponents say is necessary to keep both plans solvent.

There were no reports of spending in favor of the measure.

Cities defend progress after slipping in clean energy ranking

Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for a steel fabrication company, Ironco Enterprises, installs a series of solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University's Tempe campus in 2011. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks the largest U.S. cities every year on their clean- and renewable-energy policies. Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson each fell slightly in this year’s rankings, but city officials defended their policies. (Photo by Brandon Quester/Cronkite News)
Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for a steel fabrication company, Ironco Enterprises, installs a series of solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus in 2011. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks the largest U.S. cities every year on their clean- and renewable-energy policies. Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson each fell slightly in this year’s rankings, but city officials defended their policies. (Photo by Brandon Quester/Cronkite News)

Local officials pushed back earlier this month against a new report that showed three Arizona cities slipping in a national ranking on clean-energy policies, saying the report does not appear to reflect their clean and renewable-energy efforts.

The 2020 City Clean Energy Scorecard, released October 6 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, scores the 100 largest cities in the country in five categories ranging from local government to energy and water utilities.

Phoenix finished 19th in the ranking, while Tucson was 68th and Mesa was 76th – all three slightly lower rankings than the cities got on 2019’s scorecard.

That surprised Caryn Potter, a utility program manager with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, who considers Arizona “an energy efficiency success story.”

“While our cities are making important commitments towards reducing air pollution, conserving

water, and making their cities more walkable and livable, I was surprised to see the drop in

Phoenix, Mesa, and Tucson’s overall scores,” she said in an email.

She pointed to energy-efficiency programs run by various electric companies throughout the state that have been proven to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Myriam Cruz, communications director for Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, said in a statement last week that “it appears some sections are outdated … which might have impacted Tucson’s score.” That was echoed by sustainability officials in both Phoenix and Mesa, who were quick to mention what they called outdated data as an explanation for the low scores.

But the director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy local policy program said its first step for getting data is to ask cities and utilities to provide it – and not everyone in Arizona did that. In that case, the council pulls the needed data together as best it can.

“Phoenix completed the data request, it looks like Tucson and Mesa did not,” said David Ribeiro, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy official. “So in the case of Phoenix, the data request would have been used to populate a lot of information. For Tucson and Mesa, we would have done our own research to collect that data.”

But Scott Bouchie, Mesa’s deputy director of environmental management and sustainability, said it can be a challenge “filling out all of these surveys and what folks are putting out … versus getting work done sometimes.”

He thinks the report only shows a fraction of Mesa’s sustainability efforts, pointing to a partnership with Salt River Project on a solar energy project that will increase the city’s renewable energy portfolio. The city is also in the design process of a project that would take waste methane gas produced in its sewage system, which is currently burned off, and convert it to pipeline-quality gas that could be used to fuel trucks.

“If you look at a solid waste truck, if you look at the carbon intensity of a diesel truck, the carbon intensity of a natural gas vehicle is less,” Bouchie said. “But then if you use renewable natural gas to power that vehicle, as opposed to your traditional natural gas, the carbon intensity is significantly lower.”

Cruz said the report does not include Tucson’s Climate Emergency Declaration, approved in September, that “sets a long-term goal for city operations to become carbon-neutral by 2030.”

Phoenix Chief Sustainability Officer Mark Hartman said the transportation portion of the report does not reflect efforts to expand the light rail, something that should take cars off the highways and cut emissions.

“We’re the only major city in the U.S. that’s upgrading and adding light rail (and) we’re the only ones that are increasing the size of rapid buses,” he said. “So we’re really expanding our transportation system.”

While he would like to have seen the city moving up in the ranks, Harman said being in the top 20 and only dropping two places, from 17 to 19, “actually shows a good consistency and ranking.”

“I think the top 20 cities, I know every one of those cities that are taking action, and they all have some really bold and aggressive and great things that they’re doing,” Hartman said.

Hartman suggested that part of the reason the Arizona cities dropped – Tucson went from 52nd to 68th and Mesa from 66th to 76th – could be the fact that the report expanded from 75 cities last year to 100 this year.

But Ribeiro said American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy accounted for that by “only comparing cities against those that were in the report last time to sort of eliminate that potential effect.”

Still, Hartman said he sees the report as a positive for Phoenix, which aims to become a carbon-neutral city by 2060, as well as for cities across the country and their efforts at boosting sustainable energy.

“I think it’s good overall,” he said. “It’s good to be in the top 20. I mean, there’s a lot of aggressive cities, and I think it’s inspiring to see what many of the cities are doing and it’s nice to be in the company of them.”

Commission should see difficult times magnify need for renewable energy

Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011. A new report says installation continued to be the largest job sector in solar-related industries last year. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
(Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Cheap, reliable, and clean electricity is important in the best of times, but it becomes most critical in times like these, where we face fear, uncertainty, and economic hardship.

Arizona ratepayers need the Arizona Corporation Commission, utilities, and Gov. Doug Ducey to watch out for them during this pandemic, and beyond. That means advancing an innovative diversified clean energy economy that’s resilient during state and national crises.

The energy market has changed dramatically in recent years, and Arizona is falling behind neighboring states in transitioning to the cheapest and most reliable power source: solar energy combined with battery storage.

David Jenkins
David Jenkins

Coal and gas generation is now double or triple the cost of new solar+storage. This disparity could make a real difference for those suddenly experiencing economic hardship due to unforeseen events, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Energy security is vital to our health and safety in the face of this rapidly spreading virus. Electricity runs ventilators, monitors, and other equipment critical to saving lives. It also runs the air conditioners patients depend on, whether recuperating at home, or treated in a hospital.

Today the most reliable energy source is solar+storage. Its fuel never runs out, nor is it susceptible to global price spikes or supply disruptions.

Then, of course, we need cleaner air. In times like these, every breath matters.

Nothing can sharpen our focus on the importance of air quality quite like a respiratory illness that exploits lungs damaged—and made more vulnerable—by pollution.

Anything that compromises our lungs—even a little bit—must be viewed in an entirely different light given the hard lessons learned from this ongoing pandemic.

For Arizona, a state with unparalleled solar energy potential, there is no reason to keep relying on aging, pollution-belching, coal plants to provide the state’s electricity.

All of these points were raised back in March at the commission’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) workshop, which I attended.

While it’s clear some commissioners fully recognize the importance of renewable energy to the health, safety and prosperity of their fellow Arizonans, it’s unclear where they all stand.

Chairman Bob Burns and Commissioner Sandra Kennedy have laid out their vision for a feasible and ambitious standard. Commissioners Boyd Dunn and Lea Marquez Peterson have shown interest in a long-term clean energy goal; however, they are less clear when it comes to revising the renewable energy standard to drive the progress we need.

Equally concerning, commission staff keep producing draft REST revisions that are tailored more to the wishes of utilities, like Arizona Public Service Co. and Tucson Electric Power, than to the needs of Arizona and its ratepayers.

On several occasions during the March workshop, staff went out of its way to prompt utility representatives for more direct statements against an ambitious renewable standard. This seemed like an attempt to counter, not only testimony from other stakeholders, but comments from the commissioners themselves.

By contrast, last year neighboring Nevada passed a 50 percent by 2030 renewable standard with unanimous bipartisan support. The same should be a no brainer for Arizona, which receives even more sunlight than its neighbor.

In his recent letter to the docket, Burns agreed, calling for a 50 percent by 2030 renewable standard and a 100 percent by 2050 clean energy standard. Other commissioners should follow his lead and show clear support for the same.

Commissioners need to direct staff to put forward a meaningful, and appropriately ambitious, update to the REST rule they can vote on. Otherwise the commission will keep spinning its wheels to the detriment of every Arizonan.

Thomas Paine, one of our nation’s founding fathers, famously said, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” Such times also reveal the mettle and foresight of our elected officials. Renewable energy is tailor made for times like these. Let us hope the commission realizes this, calls for a vote and finally gives Arizonans a healthier, more resilient, and less costly energy future.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 Arizona members.

Corp Comm candidates debate dark money, renewable energy

Solar Potential

The three Republicans running to become state utility regulators warn that putting Democrats in charge of the regulatory panel would turn Arizona into California.

And they don’t mean that in a good way.

In a debate at KAET-TV on September 30, all three Republicans – Jim O’Connor, Eric Sloan and Lea Marquez Peterson – criticized the self-named “solar team” of Democrats Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar and Shea Stanfield. They said electing the Democrats would mean higher rates as consumers are forced to buy what they contend is more expensive power from renewable resources, just as what has happened in California.

“I am a free-market capitalist,” said O’Connor.

He said that the added costs borne by utilities to purchase power from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources is passed on to consumers, complete with utilities even taking a markup.

“It’s a fantasy to believe that there’s some company with an endless pot of gold that can pick up the check for all this social redistribution,” O’Connor said.

“Any time the commission mandates or subsidizes something, Arizonans end up paying more for something than they should have,” said Sloan. He estimates the current requirement for utilities to purchase more solar power has cost ratepayers $1.2 billion.

Marquez Peterson, the lone incumbent seeking one of the three open seats, said she sees the issue through a different lens.

She said California has vigorously forced utilities to move away from fossil fuels. That, Marquez Peterson said, led to rolling blackouts this summer and utilities in that state trying to buy power from Arizona utilities.

Democrats have their own arguments.

On the financial side, Mundell, who was a commissioner for nearly a decade until 2009 – and a Republican at the time – argued that the mandates that he helped approve at the time actually have resulted in $2 billion in savings for customers. The key, he said, is encouraging things like rooftop solar.

“You don’t have to build big, gigantic new fossil fuel plants, you don’t have to build transmission lines,” Mundell said. And he pointed out that utilities are legally entitled to pass on the cost of new construction to ratepayers.

Tovar said it’s also good for the Arizona economy, making the state the “solar capital” of the nation.

“It will be a win-win situation,” she said. “It will create a new economy with green jobs … that will be creating the thousands of jobs that we desperately need.”

Stanfield took her own swipe at utilities, saying they don’t appear to be interested in providing clean and affordable energy. She said that’s why they need to be “strongly encouraged with mandates and standards and held accountable for steps to get to those mandates.”

Some of the debate about current and potential mandates could end up being academic.

In a recent ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court appears to have narrowed the legal role of the Corporation Commission strictly to setting rates.

That, in turn, could undermine the existing requirement by the commission that utilities generate 15% of their power from renewable sources by 2025. And it also would call into question other proposals – including some by Republicans – to wean utilities in Arizona away from fossil fuels.

Despite the differences over such mandates, five of the candidates say they do believe that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity. Only O’Connor said he has his doubts.

The other key issue in the race could come down to who voters believe is least likely to be influenced by the utilities they are supposed to be regulating.

Next month’s election comes as the commission is coming off years of low public trust, much of that directly related to the fact that Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, funneled millions of dollars into prior campaigns for Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

APS appears to have stayed out of the 2018 race after their practices were unveiled. And, to date, there is no evidence that they are backing any of the contenders, all of whom are running with public financing.

“The dark money has corrupted the commission,” Mundell said. “It’s led to those non-justified rate increases and the crushing of rooftop solar.”

Sloan countered that it hasn’t just been Republicans who have benefited from outside spending, mentioning the $2.8 million that Chispa Arizona, the political arm of the League of Conservation Voters, put into trying to elect Democrats in 2018.

But Sloan’s own background made him a target.

He ran the Arizona Coalition for Reliable Energy in 2016. That was the fund financed by APS that pushed for election of Republicans.

That $10,000 contract, said Mundell, makes him suspect as someone who could be an independent voice and properly regulate utilities.

Sloan described his activities as simply a “get-out-the-vote” effort. That drew a sharp retort from Tovar.

“It was a get-out-to-vote for three Republicans on the commission,” she said.

Both Mundell and Tovar did not dispute that they took money from an APS political action committee when they were members of the Legislature. But she said that was a different time.

“We didn’t have these issues with APS,” Tovar said.

Mundell also found himself defending his previous time on the commission, acknowledging he probably voted for some rate increases for APS but saying he also voted against others.

Prior cash from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS, also became an issue during the debate. Marquez Peterson not only got $2,500 for her 2018 congressional race from the company, but also $5,000 from David Hutchens, chief executive of Tucson Electric Power.

She said that is irrelevant to the job she wants to keep after Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her to the commission, replacing Andy Tobin who left to become head of the state Department of Administration.

“It in no way unduly influences me as commissioner,” she said. And Marquez Peterson also said that she was involved since joining the commission in approving a new code of ethics for regulators.

“I think that we’ve turned the tide” on the commission’s reputation. Beyond that, Marquez Peterson said that the individuals who were leading APS at the time are since gone.

Corporation Commission candidates debate renewable energy initiative

In this photo of the Sept. 20, 2018, Arizona Corporation Commission debate on KAET-TV are from left Rodney Glassman, Republican, Sandra Kennedy, Democrat, Ted Simons, host, Kiana Sears, Democrat, and Justin Olson, Republican. The candidates are vying for two open seats on the commission. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
In this photo of the Sept. 20, 2018, Arizona Corporation Commission debate on KAET-TV are from left Rodney Glassman, Republican, Sandra Kennedy, Democrat, Ted Simons, host, Kiana Sears, Democrat, and Justin Olson, Republican. The candidates are vying for two open seats on the commission. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Democrat Sandra Kennedy said Thursday there would be no need for voters to impose a renewable energy mandate if state utility regulators would do their job.

Kennedy, one of four contenders for two seats up for grabs at the Arizona Corporation Commission, said she supports Proposition 127. That measure on the November ballot would require utilities regulated by the commission to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

That would override the standard set by the commission of 15 percent by 2025.

“The renewable energy standard has been stalled for more than a decade,” said Kiana Sears, the other Democrat in the race and a former commission staffer during an hour-long debate on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate. She said the Republicans who have controlled the panel since that time and now have all five seats have failed to revisit and revamp it.

Both Republican contenders, Justin Olson who was appointed to the commission last year and attorney Rodney Glassman, oppose the initiative.

“This is a mandate that wasn’t even written by Arizonans,” Glassman complained, pointing out it is being advanced by Californian Tom Steyer whom he called a “leftist billionaire.” He argued — as has Arizona Public Service Co. which is financing the opposition — that the mandate would double and possibly triple what customers pay for electricity.

“That is a facade,” Sears responded.

“We know that solar energy costs less,” she said, citing costs as low as 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour versus double that for carbon-based sources.

Olson agreed that the cost of solar has plummeted so much “that it actually is the most cost-effective way of generating electricity — while the sun is shining.”

“The problem is that folks get home from work and the sun fades below the horizon and they still have an expectation that when they turn on the switch that the lights are going to come on,” he said.

He acknowledged the developments in battery technology to store what is generated during the day. But Olson said that when you add the current cost of those batteries, solar loses its financial edge.

He said the record from California should be a lesson for Arizonans, where he said electric rates are 50 percent higher than here.

“This is a burden that will be placed on hardworking Arizona families and businesses and it’s a burden that I don’t support,” Olson said.

Kennedy said she’s not buying the argument that the initiative would mean higher rates.

“It’s propaganda,” she said. “It’s the same propaganda that APS is spewing.”

And she said surrounding states not only have more aggressive renewable standards than what now exist in Arizona but are actually increasing them even as there is no change being proposed here.

But Glassman said there’s more to that story.

He said that California, which already has a 50 percent renewable energy mandate, generates so much power in the middle of the day from solar it actually is paying Arizona utilities “to take that solar off their grid.”

“Their failed policies in California have created excess supply to our benefit,” Glassman said. “And so I do not support giving up our economic development competitive advantage by putting these mandates forward.”

Kennedy, who served as a commissioner from 2009 through 2012, said the initiative was born out of frustration with the standards not having been revisited since the current version was adopted in 2006.

“If the commissioners were doing their jobs, the people of this state would not be going to a ballot measure,” she said, saying 80 percent of people want renewable energy. “Why can’t Arizona be the solar capital of the world?”

All four contenders did agree on one key point: There is low voter confidence in the current commission.

The panel came under public scrutiny most recently with the indictment of former Commission Chairman Gary Pierce on charges of being bribed by the owner of Johnson Utilities. A jury split 7-5 to acquit and federal prosecutors chose not to retry the defendants.

Kennedy said she was on the commission when the panel first approved a change in rates for the water and sewer company, saying the plan had “some teeth” to ensure adequate customer service. It was only after the panel became an all-Republican affair, she said, that Pierce moved to revisit the case, removed the restrictions “and gave Mr. Johnson everything that he wanted.”

Moderator Ted Simons pointed out it also was the all-Republican commission that voted to allow APS to raise its rates, a move that has provoked an outcry and a call to revisit the approval after many customers found their bills had gone up far more than had been advertised.

But Olson, who was not on the commission for that vote, said what happened in the past should not deter voters from putting him back on the commission and electing Glassman, a move that would keep the panel under GOP control.

“Unfortunately, some folks violated that public trust,” said Olson. “But that doesn’t mean that some of the folks that are before the voters today violated that public trust.”

Olson also pointed out that he attempted to get the commission to adopt some strict rules, including a ban on accepting donations from regulating utilities. But Kennedy noted the majority of the panel refused to go along and yet Olson supported what was left.

He countered that it would make no sense to oppose some new restrictions just because he didn’t get everything he wanted.

Glassman, for his part, said he has proposed that the commission live under the same rules that govern judges who must recuse themselves if any party in an issue that comes before them has been a contributor.

But no one had an answer to a query by Simons to the fact that under Arizona law utilities can simply give money anonymously to third parties who in turn can wage political campaigns to elect the regulators they want.

That is precisely what APS was accused of doing in the 2014 campaign when outside groups put $3.2 million into electing Republicans. APS will neither confirm nor deny it was the source of those funds.


Corporation Commission overstepping its authority, Ducey says

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks prior to signing the order calling the Legislature into a special session at the Capitol in Phoenix. Arizona Gov. Ducey is pushing lawmakers to approve his proposal for big teacher raises Monday, April 23, 2018, as school districts make plans to shut down if educators statewide walk off the job as planned this week after calling the Republican governor's plan insufficient. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)
Doug Ducey (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday the Arizona Corporation Commission has been getting into areas beyond its constitutional authority to set utility rates.

“There’s been a bit of mission creep,” the governor said.

Ducey’s comments were most immediately about the report of the death last year of an elderly customer of Arizona Public Service whose power was turned off in the middle of summer because she only paid a part of her bill. It was not until that death became public this past month – and it was learned that APS had shut off power last year to 110,000 customers – that the utility agreed to temporarily suspend cutoffs.

The reports, first unveiled by Phoenix New Times, has led three commissioners to seek to revamp rules about when a utility can shut off power.

But the governor said he’s not sure that the commission is the agency that, by itself, should be setting the rules.

Ducey’s comments did not stop there. He also said that the commission, which is constitutionally created, may be overstepping its bounds in telling utilities how much of their power has to come from renewable energy.

Those contentions drew a surprised reaction from Bob Burns who chairs the five-member panel.

“Maybe he ought to read the constitution,” Burns told Capitol Media Services. And he specifically rejected Ducey’s contention that the question of when a utility can shut off power is an issue to be decided by the Legislature and the governor.

“We have rule-setting authority to establish rules to have utilities follow,” said Burns. “It’s part of our charge.”

The published report of APS cutting off the energy of 72-year-old Stephanie Pullman of Sun City West led to a hastily crafted statement by the utility this past week that it was suspending its cutoffs while it reviewed its policies.

Within days, Burns directed the commission staff to craft new rules about when electricity can be shut off. The panel is supposed to look at what they find on Thursday.

Burns is not alone. Both Commissioners Boyd Dunn and Justin Olson also are seeking review of the shutoff rules.

“We should be protecting our most vulnerable,” Ducey said Monday, though he said he does not know all the facts. “But it seems as if it were avoidable.”

The governor said he would call on the commission to see “what’s possible.”

“But I also think there’s been a bit of a mission creep on the Corporation Commission beyond just setting rates,” Ducey said. “And something of this level could rise to legislation or regulation to protect Arizona’s most vulnerable.”

But Ducey did not stop there.

More than a decade ago the commission approved rules requiring utilities to generate at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources – not including nuclear – by 2025.

That occurred with some opposition from affected electric companies. And now commissioners already are talking about increasing that goal.

The governor questioned whether that’s something the regulators should be doing.

“We want to see the Corporation Commission doing what their constitutional charge is,” Ducey said. But that, he said, does not mean the elected regulators should have the last word.

“If there’s other opportunities around energy regulation and policy that the Legislature and the governor’s office should be involved in, we want to make certain that we’re involved,” Ducey said.

Does that mean he believes it should not be the commission setting the renewable energy standard but instead the Legislature?

“I think we can have some discussion on that front,” the governor said.

But Burns said having the Legislature – presumably with the governor – setting energy policy for the state ignores the specific powers given to the commission under the Arizona Constitution.

“The commission has legislative authority as well as executive authority as well as judicial authority,” he said. And that, said Burns, gives the commission the power to enact and enforce rules over its sphere of influence, meaning the utilities, just as if it were acting as the Legislature.

Burns has a unique perspective in seeking the division of power between the commission and the Legislature: He served as a state lawmaker for 20 years, including a term as Senate president.

The governor separately brushed aside questions about his decision last month to replace Andy Tobin on the commission.

Tobin, named to the regulatory panel by Ducey in 2015, has been increasingly critical of APS and its practices, voting against several proposals sought by the utility. That included a moratorium on building new power plans that use fossil fuels and Tobin’s own proposals to increase the amount of renewable energy utilities must generate.

By naming Tobin to head the Department of Administration, that freed Ducey to tap Lea Marquez Peterson, an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate who also had sided with APS against a 2018 renewable energy ballot measure.

Ducey told Capitol Media Services he rejects the premise that he was looking to put someone more friendly to the utility on the commission.

“We were able to put someone who is an excellent public servant (in the job), someone who led the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is respected in the business community,” the governor said. And Ducey said he understands she is the first-ever Hispanic woman to serve in statewide office.

“And she will be a watchdog for the taxpayer,” Ducey said.

As to the money she has taken from Pinnacle West for her losing congressional campaign, Ducey said that just shows “she’s built broad support for her campaigns.”

“And I think that’s a reflection people have trust in her,” the governor said.

Corporation Commissioners: Be leaders we elected you to be


In the coming days, the Arizona Corporation Commission will consider whether to finally modernize our antiquated energy rules.

These elected utility regulators have met twice on this issue to take a vote. And twice, they’ve punted.

The energy rules have been under consideration for two years and have been the subject of more than 10 public meetings, thousands of comments filed with the commission, and hundreds of hours of engagement by stakeholders.

The time is long overdue for the commission to set aside politics and be the leaders we elected them to be. On Oct. 13-14, they must do their job and move our state toward a cleaner, healthier future.

This is not a radical idea. The state’s major utilities – Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power, and Salt River Project – have already established goals to substantially reduce carbon emissions and produce energy from renewable or clean sources.

Emma Searson
Emma Searson

They understand consumers and companies alike want clean energy, a higher renewable standard, and more energy efficiency. Consumers are demanding it, and major corporations are embracing climate pledges and pursuing ambitious renewable energy policies.

So why the hesitancy to enshrine this in our state’s energy policies?

The ACC’s malaise doesn’t make sense to the vast majority of Arizonans who know that climate change is real, imminent, and human-caused. Catastrophic wildfires, record-breaking temperatures in Arizona, choking air pollution, and prolonged droughts have underscored the urgency of this issue in the West and beyond.

Requiring utilities to generate 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 – and all of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050 – will ensure a cleaner future for all Arizonans, including communities directly impacted by fossil fuel extraction and power plant pollution such as the Navajo Nation, while also safeguarding consumers’ pocketbooks by reducing electricity costs with the cheapest energy source available and lowering utility bills.

The commission must also extend the Energy Efficiency Standard to 35 percent by 2030. Energy efficiency in Arizona has more than delivered on its promises to reduce costs and ensure we have cleaner air and water, leading to healthier communities.

A big sticking point is whether the commission will require that utilities meet periodic benchmarks on carbon reduction. These benchmarks are critical to ensuring utilities cannot just shelve their clean energy plans for decades, waiting until the final years of a 30-year action plan to meet critical targets.

We cannot risk such a toothless plan without benchmarks. After all, clear benchmarks turn goals into realities and send a clear message to the investment markets that Arizona is moving this direction.

Arizonans appreciate that our state’s abundant sunshine has unlimited potential, and they overwhelmingly support expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio. Clean energy improves the air we breathe, supports healthy communities and helps reduce global warming pollution that has led to prolonged drought and extreme temperatures in the West.

The time is now. Utility regulators: Do your job and vote for a responsible, clean energy plan at your next meeting.

Emma Searson is director of the 100% Renewable Campaign for the Environment Arizona Research & Policy Center.




Ducey: Law he signed meant to undermine Prop 127 victory

It ultimately may not matter if Arizonans vote in November to require utilities to generate more of their electricity from renewable sources.

Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledged Friday he signed legislation with the specific intent of allowing the affected companies to ignore the mandate proposed in Proposition 127 by paying a minimal fine. And he said the goal of protecting ratepayers outweighs any voter-approved constitutional provision.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“What I want to do is make sure we’ve got affordable, accessible energy,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services. “I don’t think when we have these mandates at the ballot box it gives the flexibility to our entrepreneurs and innovators to bring those solutions to the marketplace.”

That mirrors the claims of Arizonans for Affordable Energy, the committee financed by Arizona Public Service, which is leading the fight against Proposition 127.

That still leaves the question of whether voters have a right to put a requirement that utilities get 50 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030 into the Arizona Constitution.

The measure Ducey signed would not — and could not — legally override a constitutional mandate. In fact, only another public vote could alter or repeal it.

But the law, which took effect in August, spells out that any violation of a constitutional provision on renewable energy would be only a civil violation. More to the point, it makes the penalty a one-time fine that could be as much as $5,000 — and as little as $100 — effectively allowing utilities to ignore any voter-approved mandate by paying the penalty.

The governor defended that decision.

“I do not want to see hardworking taxpayers and families in our state have their energy rates hiked for a reason that will not improve the environment in our state,” he said.

APS spokeswoman Jenna Rowell said Friday that no decision has been made whether her company would choose to pay the fine rather than comply with what voters approve.

But APS lobbyist Rodney Ross, in testifying for the measure his company helped craft, acknowledged the utility wants the option of ignoring the results of the election if Proposition 127 were to pass.

“If that scenario were to take place, we would engage in a collaborative process with our regulators, with state lawmakers, with affected stakeholders, and together come to a decision regarding what the best course of action is to protect the state, the economy and its ratepayers,” Ross said.

Joe Barrios, spokesman for Tucson Electric Power and UniSource, both of which also oppose the initiative, said the companies “will try to” comply.

“It remains to be seen whether we would be able to do that,” Barrios said, saying the measure presents “some very real operational challenges.”

The admission by both Ducey and the APS lobbyist about creating an escape clause for utilities to ignore Proposition 127 comes as both side of the debate are spending millions of dollars in a campaign that could leave voters with a better understanding of a line popularized by Mark Twain: There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

For the moment, it is the Arizona Corporation Commission that decides how much renewable energy each regulated utility must generate. The standard, last altered in 2006, requires 15 percent by 2025.


As of mid-August, the anti-127 campaign already had spent $10.4 million, much of that in the effort to knock the initiative off the ballot. All of that cash came from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS.

Proponents, operating under the banner of Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, listed $8.8 million as of the same time. All of its cash comes from NextGen Climate Action, a political action committee run by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

The next reports, which will cover the extensive and expensive media campaign now being waged by both sides, are not due until next month.

Both sides have produced their own reports about what voter approval would mean to consumers.

Proponents are relying heavily on a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council which concluded that average electric bills would be $3 a month less if the state enacts the 50 percent renewable mandate by 2030 — and $5 a month less by 2040.

That’s based in part on the assumption that, absent Prop 127, utilities will meet future demands by building new gas-fired generators, which will require they purchase a steady supply of fuel. And history has shown that the price can fluctuate wildly.

By contrast, the NRDC says the cost of solar is dropping.

It does acknowledge that solar, by definition, is available only in daylight hours. But the study includes a presumption there will be not only battery storage but also some “flexible use of (existing) gas turbines and power plants.”

The campaign against Prop 127 relies heavily on a study produced for APS by the Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University which campaign spokesman Matthew Benson said is based on an analysis of the bills of the utility’s current customers.

It claims the average price of electricity will go from 13.6 cents a kilowatt hour to more than 29 cents. More to the point, the study says that the average residential bill will go from $1,658 a year to $3,594.

Benson acknowledged that is based in part on the presumption that approval of the measure will result in shuttering the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. That is based on projections that there would be so much solar energy that the power would not be needed at peak solar hours but have nowhere to go and that the plant cannot be kept online and operating.

TEP also says Prop 127 would raise rates, but nowhere near the APS projections. Instead, the company figures residential customers would pay at least an extra $500 a year, with a $3,400 increase for the average business.

In a nearly identical statement in opposition, UniSource, TEP’s cousin company, figures a $650 increase for residential customer and $3,400 for business.

Also inherent in the debate is the claim by proponents that shutting down fossil-fueled plants will improve public health. They cite reports by the American Lung Association which rates Tucson a D for air pollution with Phoenix, Yuma and Flagstaff all getting an F.

But a study by NERA Economic Consulting commissioned by APS says the initiative “cannot be expected to improve reported levels of ozone pollution in areas where most Arizonans live.” That’s because much more of the chemical which can irritate lungs and eyes is produced from everything from wildfires to vehicle emissions.

Opponents also contend that if the concern is air pollution, Prop 127 would have allowed nuclear power to be counted toward the goal, as there are no smokestack emissions.

But campaign consultant Bill Scheel said there are health effects from nuclear power, saying there is a link between high rates of cancer in communities in and around Northern Arizona where uranium is mined.

Expand Coolidge Generating Station for reliability

Providing reliable, affordable and increasingly clean energy in today’s environment is complex. But one thing is clear – we need to keep power flowing when we need it most. 

Businesses will not locate in an area without a reliable supply of electricity to meet their manufacturing needs and residential customers can’t tolerate losing power during our hot summer months, putting them and their families at risk. 

David Cook

The Salt River Project’s proposal to expand the Coolidge Generating Station provides the needed assurance that neither will occur and opens up the opportunity for more high-paying jobs and careers for rural Arizonans.

The technology being used at the plant today is similar to an engine on a jet airplane except they run on natural gas, not jet fuel. The new generators SRP wants to put at the plant are exactly the same. 
These types of generators are only used during the hottest parts of our hottest summer days – not around the clock like larger power plants designed to operate that way.

Why add more natural gas generators instead of even more solar panels? Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t always shine, but we know the heat doesn’t go away in the summer. Solar panels play an important role in the utilities’ overall energy portfolio, and SRP continues to add more of this clean energy. The challenge comes when we consider when demand for power is highest. Customers are actually using the most electricity when the sun is beginning to set and solar energy is dropping off. We need something to pick up that slack when solar can’t deliver. These rapid response turbines that provide energy at peak times of the day and year are the logical solution to solve that gap in production versus demand.

Adding more generators at the Coolidge plant also gives SRP the confidence to add even more renewable energy resources because they will have a reliable way to back them up and keep our air conditioners humming when citizens need them most.

T.J. Shope

Water consumption will always be a concern in our desert environment, which is why we always look closely at the water required for power generation. We have a long history of working to address our water issues, not just in our district but around the state. The proposed plant expansion will rely exclusively on CAP water stored underground, not groundwater. The volume of water for the project is estimated at 450 acre-feet per year, which is less than the prior use on the land. We are using less water for greater opportunity for the people, which is a good thing.

Some members of the environmental community argue that we should only add more renewable energy resources to meet the incredible growth we are experiencing in the Valley. While it might seem a noble idea, it ignores reality. To meet the growth SRP and other economic modeling is predicting, you would have to build many times more solar panels as well as largely untested, and potentially environmentally hazardous, battery storage units. That’s a more expensive and less reliable approach that ratepayers would be funding. 

SRP’s plan to build smaller, rapid-response natural gas generators that meet growth and provide the ability to continue to add more renewable energy in a proven way to keep the lights is not only the responsible right thing but also it avoids sticker shock for Arizona electricity customers and their families. 

Rep. David Cook and Sen. T.J. Shope represent Legislative District 8.


Hobbs vetoes bill to regulate renewable energy

Calling it a potential barrier to renewable energy, Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed legislation Monday which would have imposed new requirements on solar and wind generating plants.

HB 2618 contained a list of what cities, towns and counties could adopt in zoning standards, site-specific conditions and permitting requirements on such facilities.

Potentially more significant, it would have required owners to not only have a decommissioning plan in place but also to post a bond – essentially insurance – to cover the costs if the company goes bankrupt or otherwise tries to walk away. And it would even mandate restoring and re-establishing soils and vegetation using native seed mixes.

It also included requirements for liability insurance to protect the community from any financial obligations due to injuries or other damages caused by the plant.

Rio Verde, Senate, House
Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said counties already have some oversight of such projects. What this would do, she said, is provide some basic standards.

The governor, however, said all that is too much.

“HB 2618 encourages an inconsistent statewide patchwork of regulations for renewable energy projects and would have a deep chilling effect on renewable energy development in Arizona,” Hobbs wrote in her veto message. “It creates additional regulatory confusion for businesses, negatively impacting Arizona’s ability to attract, retain, and grow a renewable energy ecosystem in our state and create good-paying jobs for everyday Arizonans.”

Other measures rejected by the governor on Monday include:

– Requiring that school board members have unrestricted access to administrative facilities and staff without having to first get permission from the district superintendent. Hobbs called it “an overcorrection for an issue that is occurring in a limited number of school boards across the state.”

– Expanding the ability of taxpayers to get dollar-for-dollar credits for contributing to organizations that provide scholarships to have students attend private and parochial schools, in this case, for foster children. Hobbs said taxpayers already are diverting $272 million a year away from the general fund and she will not support expansion.

– Allowing private companies access to information from the state Department of Revenue on taxpayers in the name of helping return lost property. The governor said that is “an abuse and misuse of public records.”

– Permitting the Department of Environmental Quality to have its own legal counsel. Hobbs said the agency already receives “effective and efficient legal representation from the attorney general.”

The veto of HB 2168 came at the behest of the Interwest Energy Alliance composed of major developers and manufacturers of large-scale renewable energy projects.

Lobbyist Stan Barnes said his industry is not opposed to some oversight, including assurances that there are plans for what happens at the end of the life expectancy of a plant. But Barnes said Monday he asked Hobbs to veto the measure because the legislation piled on new requirements above and beyond what local communities already can do.

Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr, testifying against the bill had a similar outlook.

Sierra Club, ADEQ, Bahr, ozone, pollution, NO, NOx, EPA, Maricopa County, carbon-hydrogen bonds, Covid, heart attacks, strokes, asthma
Sandy Bahr

“We think it includes overly prescriptive decommissioning requirements for these entities,” she said. And Bahr said counties already have broad zoning authority.

“Why the Legislature continues to single out solar and wind is beyond me, especially when this is an industry that provides over 8,000 jobs in Arizona and is about a $16.1 billion investment,” she told lawmakers.

Bahr also said there is an inconsistency in lawmakers saying they want to protect communities against having abandoned solar and wind farms when they specifically preclude counties from imposing similar requirements on sand and gravel operations. And she called the state cleanup requirement the weakest in the West.

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, saw similar contradictions and said she could not support the “extra hurdles” being imposed only on renewable energy projects.

“This bill is unfairly singling out and targeting solar and wind power producers for requirements of decommissioning standards without similarly providing those standards for other types of power production, namely oil and gas and coal,” she argued during Senate floor debate on the issue. In fact, she tried to amend HB 2618 to include those facilities, only to have the proposal rejected after Republican supporters were told that Griffin did not support the change.

“Decommissioning is a very important topic,” Sundareshan said. But she said it is equally important to include other any other form of power production “that does leave a mark on our landscape.”

Griffin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

How President Ronald Reagan saved the bathing suit


With the record hot summer Arizona has been having, any hope of being able to enjoy the outdoors hinges on the ability to dress down. That means reaching for shorts, tank tops, and bathing suits as much as possible.

What most folks probably don’t realize is that they have President Reagan to thank for these light and skimpy wardrobe options.

As odd as that sounds, it’s true. Back in the 1980s the world was facing a big problem. Scientists had discovered that chemicals used in air conditioners, refrigeration equipment, and aerosols—such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—were rapidly depleting the earth’s ozone layer.

That layer of our atmosphere acts as a natural protective barrier, preventing us from being bombarded with much more dangerous levels of the sun’s ultraviolet UV-B radiation. Without it, exposed skin would burn in five minutes and the public’s risk of skin cancer would skyrocket.

Despite some naysayers in his Cabinet urging him to do nothing, Reagan took decisive action. He approved a national policy on ozone protection and pushed through an international treaty that phased out the use of CFCs and HCFCs.

That is genuine conservative leadership.

David Jenkins
David Jenkins

Today, thanks to Reagan’s leadership, our protective ozone layer is healing. That 1987 treaty, the Montreal Protocol, is still regarded as the world’s most successful environmental treaty. In the U.S. alone, it prevented an additional 1.5 million skin cancer deaths.

Just think how different our lives would be. We would indeed be wearing wide-brimmed hats, playing golf in long-sleeved shirts—and those bathing suits, nothing more than relics of a bygone era.

Reagan’s success with the Montreal Protocol was a point of pride for the Republican Party. Its 1988 party platform heaped effusive praise on the treaty and called for a similar approach in solving climate change.

That would have been nice, but special interests opposed to action on climate change — mainly fossil fuel companies — swooped in and swayed the party away from tackling those problems.

In Reagan, America had a leader who was responsible and forward thinking enough to respond when action was needed to safeguard our atmosphere. He also trusted our free enterprise system enough to recognize that business and industry were up to the task, and would adapt to the necessary change.

Today, climate change is a much more visible and advanced threat than it was in 1988, and we could use Reagan’s brand of bold, genuinely conservative, leadership in tackling that problem.

While the sun’s rays are now friendlier to outdoor recreation, its heat is becoming much less so. The summer of 2020 has been the hottest summer in Phoenix history. Its 50 days with the temperature reaching 110 degrees or more also demolished the previous record of 33 days.

This unprecedented heat, along with other climate-related changes, also threaten Arizona’s water supply, cause poorer air quality, and greatly increase the wildfire risk.

Arizona’s climate has always been one of its biggest draws, attracting plenty of new residents, businesses, and visitors. Climate change poses an existential threat to that appeal – and to the lifestyle and livelihood of every Arizonan.

When faced with a similar threat, President Reagan felt a moral duty to take necessary action to protect the public. Arizona needs its leaders to do the same today.

That means taking full advantage of Arizona’s unparalleled low cost solar energy potential by adopting a strong renewable energy standard. It also means supporting broader climate solutions like the fee and dividend approach advocated by former Reagan Cabinet officials, James Baker and George Shultz — and long preferred by economists and business leaders.

If Arizonans do not want to see more heat records broken, or a further reduction of the quality of life here, it is high time we start following Ronald Reagan’s prudent example.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 Arizona members.



Leaders look toward strong energy policy even during current crisis


Leaders across the country—and the world—have spent the last few months dealing with unprecedented challenges, as COVID-19 has eclipsed the day-to-day policy priorities of local, state, and national governments alike. Yet, even while our leaders focus on policies to keep our communities safe and healthy during this crisis, including ensuring essential services—like electricity—remain reliable, they must also continue to look toward the future, when the crisis will invariably end and we return to business-as-usual.

In Arizona, our leaders and utilities have proven they can do both. Just recently, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a critical electric utility relief package in which the state’s largest electric utilities agreed to continue to provide reliable electricity to homes, hospitals, and businesses while making sure that Arizona residents facing financial difficulties will have reliable access to electricity. In addition, many of the state’s water providers have committed to uninterrupted service and delaying disconnections during this time; internet service providers like Cox and CenturyLink have taken it a step further by expanding access and removing data-usage limits and overage charges.

Doran Arik Miller
Doran Arik Miller

Even with all the necessary focus on COVID-19, Arizona’s leaders are also looking ahead to ensure Arizona remains strong and competitive after this crisis ends. One area in which that is happening is the update to Arizona’s Energy Rules. While the Arizona Corporation Commission has been working to develop a new policy on clean energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency for the past several years, until now progress has been slow.

There are signs that may be changing. On March 20, Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson issued a letter calling on her fellow Commissioners to pass a policy that would require regulated electric utilities to generate 100 percent of their power from clean energy resources by 2050, explaining:

“Adopting a 100 percent clean energy policy today will send a clear and unambiguous signal to utilities, and current and future customers, that Arizona is moving forward with a cleaner and more affordable energy future, while allowing data, free-market principles and least-cost energy resources guide our utilities on how to get there.”

Commissioner Peterson’s approach is a sound one. By moving forward with a clean energy goal now and a commitment to working out the details of how Arizona will achieve that goal over the coming months and years, the Arizona Corporation Commission will provide the long-term market certainty necessary to drive technology and innovation in the energy sector. It will also spur critical rural economic development efforts and reflect what Arizonans want to see from their utilities and regulators. And, because market forces have rapidly driven down the price of renewable energy sources, they now represent the lowest cost energy option. Encouragingly, several other Commissioners have also indicated their interest in updating Arizona’s energy rules this year.

In Arizona, our leaders and utilities have proven that they are prepared to step up to take care of consumers during this unprecedented crisis, while still looking ahead to the future by working toward a strong energy policy for the state that will modernize Arizona’s energy sector, drive economic development, and help repair some of the economic damage wrought by this novel virus. That is something for which all Arizonans can be proud.

Doran Arik Miller is the Arizona Director for The Western Way (www.thewesternway.org)

Let’s harness the power of free-markets to find conservation, environmental solutions


I am the elected State Senator for Legislative District 1, and a Prescott resident since the age of four. People often mistake Arizona as a sandy desert, however, those of us who reside here know the beauty in its vast valleys, forests, and endless mountain ranges. There is a growing narrative that conservatives do not care about protecting our environment, which is why I, along with other conservative leaders, support the Arizona chapter of The Western Way

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

(TWW) organization. While TWW is a multi-state organization, focused on economical environmental solutions to conservation issues, the organization recognizes each state’s individual environmental problems and allows the respective chapters to address their unique challenges with long-term solutions.

Arizona’s conservation and environmental challenges must be a priority for not only individuals, diverse communities, and state government, but also for businesses across the state, as it has a direct impact on our daily lives. Recent polling by The Western Way shows that an overwhelming number of consumers want a larger emphasis on renewable resources and energy efficiency measures. Conservative Arizona voters responded with 80 percent favoring of placing prominence on producing energy from solar power and 84 percent of increase energy efficiency measures. Therefore, the Arizona chapter of TWW, supports companies whom are responding to consumer demand, one of which is Salt River Project (SRP).

SRP, without a government mandate, is forging a new path for Arizona through a comprehensive set of sustainability goals addressing business activities in five priority areas: carbon emission reductions, water resiliency, supply chain and waste reduction, grid modernization, and civic engagement. It is my belief that honest, principled leadership will allow us to provide pragmatic solutions to our environmental issues, and SRP follows this belief through their implementation of a 2035 governance structure that includes an incorporated financial plan, steps to ensure public transparency, and a data governance structure. The company’s 2035 sustainability goals of adding significant amounts of utility scale solar, pursuing battery storage, partnering with large private sector energy users, and prioritizing energy and water savings through energy efficiency measures has pushed SRP to add 1,000 megawatts of new utility-scale solar energy by 2025, execute its first standalone battery-based energy storage project with The AES Corporation, and partner with Intel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the Intel Chandler facility.

Having continued collaboration from mission-driven organizations and companies like The Western Way and SRP create win-win economic and ecological solutions for our state. Within TWW, we focus on the real time data and facts, something I strongly believe in as we cannot be effective in fostering real solutions without acknowledging established scientific evidence and the current state of our resources. It is understood that mandates and big-government solutions originating in Washington, D.C. may not work for our western state, and therefore, we challenge ourselves, and those around us, to harness the power of free-markets to find long-term solutions. As the newly elected Arizona Senate President, it is my duty to work across party-lines and make responsible legislative decisions addressing our great state’s environmental needs.

Senate President Karen Fann represents Legislative District 1 and has served in the Legislature since 2011.

Mass subpoenas to be tested in challenge to energy measure

power-lines-620Opponents of a ballot measure to increase Arizona’s use of renewable energy have the right to subpoena more than 1,600 individuals who gathered signatures to get the proposed law on the ballot.

But there are several ways backers of the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative could argue in trial, set to begin on August 20, that there’s not a good reason to compel those individuals to show up in court, according to some elections attorneys.

There’s high stakes over the subpoenas thanks to a 2014 law that requires judges to toss signatures from circulators who don’t show up in court.

The law, adopted as an amendment pushed by Secretary of State Michele Reagan, then a state senator, places the burden on circulators and the committee they work for to ensure that signature gatherers show up in Maricopa County Superior Court, where legal challenges to statewide ballot initiatives are heard.

Failure to show means a judge must invalidate all the signatures collected by that individual.

Attorney Brett Johnson, an attorney for GOP lawmakers Vince Leach, John Kavanagh, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and others challenging the Clean Energy initiative, told the court he plans to subpoena nearly all those who gathered signatures for the initiative, since they all registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and signed paperwork acknowledging they might be subpoenaed.

Election attorney Andy Gordon said it’s “pretty transparent” what Johnson’s strategy is.

“If you subpoena someone to show up and they don’t show up, all their signatures are automatically disqualified. That’s what they’re trying to do,” Gordon said. “Their hope is that the people don’t show up.”

What remains to be seen, Gordon said, is how the court will handle all those subpoenas — and what arguments Jim Barton, the attorney for the Clean Energy campaign, will make to dispute that all the 1,600 subpoenas are necessary.

Barton’s effort to quash the subpoenas pre-trial failed, as the court ruled the plaintiffs may subpoena however many signature gatherers they choose. The judge has also acknowledged the logistical challenges that issuing so many subpoenas presents.

That could be an opening for Barton to make the argument that some of the subpoenas weren’t necessary and the judge shouldn’t disqualify signatures even if an individual doesn’t make it to trial, Gordon said.

“I think that’s the argument you need to make because of these peculiar statutes, and because you’re dealing with kind of fundamental constitutional rights to the initiative,” Gordon said. “They should have to make a particularized showing, at least when you subpoena 1,600 (individuals), that there’s some reason to think there’s really underlying problems, other than just a ploy to disqualify the signatures.”

Roopali Desai
Roopali Desai

Attorney Roopali Desai, who worked with Gordon in 2016 to subpoena dozens of circulators in two initiative challenges for the first time under the 2014 law, said there may also be an argument that the statute requiring judges to toss signatures for no-show circulators is, on its face, unconstitutional.

“It may just be, as a statutory impediment on the citizen initiative process, not counting voters signatures simply because a circulator doesn’t show up — there’s a disconnect between the impact to the voter who signs the petition versus this burdensome requirement that was put into statute by the Legislature,” Desai said.

Barton has hinted at arguments he might might make in trial. Issuing subpoenas just to see if a individual will show up “is contrary to the purpose of that (subpoena) power being granted to attorneys,” he said.

“When you subpoena someone to trial, you are compelling them to appear, presumably for a reason. And I think just to see if they show is not a good reason,” Barton told the Arizona Capitol Times. “It’s not what the subpoena power is for.”

Johnson has argued in briefs that subpoenas are necessary because “there is no other source for this witness information.”

And a spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, a group formed to oppose the Clean Energy initiative, said that individual signature gatherers can best shed light on signatures those opposed to the initiative think should be invalidated.

The spokesman, Matthew Benson, wouldn’t say whether Johnson plans to call every signature-gatherer who complies with the subpoena to the witness stand.

“I’m not saying we will or we won’t,” Benson said. “I’m saying we reserve that right.”

“From our campaign’s perspective, the circulators are primary sources of information about these petitions,” Benson added. “No one’s in a better position than they are to address peculiarities with these petitions that we have identified.”

Desai said Barton might be on to something by arguing that there’s a disconnect between the Rules of Civil Procedure, which specify when and how subpoenas are issued, and the law as written in 2014.

When Gordon and Desai were hired to challenge an initiative to cap the pay of top hospital executives, they were cautious in who they subpoenaed. Though they identified more than 300 signature gatherers with potential issues on their petitions, Desai said they only subpoenaed about 80 individuals.

Desai said they thought it frivolous to issue subpoenas for individuals when there were other ways to easily prove in court a signature was problematic and should be invalidated.

“You have to give people notice of what it is that you want. It has to be within a particular time frame. And then you have to have these specific procedures to have them show up,” Desai said. “The statute just seems to completely obliterate, or pay no attention, to the service rules.”

That could be a path to argue that the statute requiring signatures to be tossed should be overruled by the courts, Desai said.

Policymakers haven’t gotten the message

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

Perhaps lost a bit in the all too familiar headlines about high energy prices, is the fact that when it comes the energy market, we are living in a brave new world.

Old assumptions about which sources of energy are the cheapest and most reliable no longer hold. Advances in solar and battery storage have turned those notions on their head — especially here in the sunny Southwest.

David Jenkins

Take electricity generation for example. Power from solar plus storage projects is selling for between $15 and $25 per megawatt hour (MWh) — and guaranteed for 20 years via power purchase agreements. That’s less than half the price of the electricity being produced by natural gas-fired generating plants.

Prior to the current natural gas price spike, electricity produced by natural gas generating plants was selling for between $45 and $65 per MWh — more than double the price of solar generation. That disparity grows wider by the day.

The growing demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas shipments as European countries work to wean themselves off Russian energy means that the price of natural gas here — which is already at a 14-year high — will continue to rise.

By contrast, non-exportable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear are largely immune from price spikes stemming from conflicts overseas.

Fossil fuel generation faces another huge disadvantage. Most coal and gas-fired power plants in existence today are 20-30 years old. As these plants age, their operating cost increases. So, even when the cost of fuel is low, the cost of the electricity produced is still high.

For example, utility filings show that electricity from the Four Corners coal-fired power plant costing as much as $85 per MWh. Fortunately for ratepayers here, Arizona Public Service plans to shutter that plant by 2031.

This dramatic change in energy economics is great news for Arizona, a state geologically bereft of fossil fuels but a national leader in solar intensity.

No state is better suited to take advantage of the solar energy boom — and reap the incumbent economic benefits — than Arizona. Still, policymakers seem determined to hold this state back.

Despite APS pledging a shift to 65% clean energy by 2030, and Tucson Electric Power planning to provide more than 70% of its power from renewables by 2035, state utility regulators and the Legislature have yet to see the light.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Corporation Commission reversed course and voted down a previously approved plan for the state to get 100% of its power from clean energy (which includes nuclear) by 2070.

This change of heart was likely due to pressure from the Legislature. Last year, in response to the ACC moving its clean energy plan forward, Rep. Gail Griffin and Sen. Sine Kerr both introduced bills to strip the commission of its authority to regulate electricity generation.

This ill-advised legislation died in the Senate. Nevertheless, it succeeded in cowering ACC commissioners Lea Marquez Peterson and Jim O’Connor into reversing their vote.

So instead of setting long-term goals that drive Arizona’s energy investments toward cheaper, home-grown, sources of energy, the ACC has left the state’s energy future — and your utility bill — more to chance.

Contrast that with neighboring Nevada. Two years ago, that state unanimously passed legislation requiring its utility to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. Every Republican voted for it. Why? Because it makes economic sense and protects ratepayers from price spikes.

One big problem in Arizona is the outsized influence of groups like the so-called Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which carries water for out-of-state fossil fuel interests by peddling market-defying fiction to Arizona lawmakers.

The club’s ludicrous contention that more natural gas and coal generation will somehow lower folks’ utility bills ignores literally every signal the market has been sending for the past five years.

There is no left or right energy. It is all just energy. Cheap is better than expensive, in-state is better than out, abundant is better than scarce, and clean is better than dirty.

For Arizonans, solar paired with storage checks all of those boxes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just making stuff up.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 members in Arizona.




Proposition 127 soundly rejected

APS electric power lightbulb

A $31 million campaign by the state’s electric utilities proved enough to keep voters from adopting a constitutional mandate that they generate at least half of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

Early returns show Proposition 127 going down to defeat despite about $24 million being spent on its behalf, largely from California billionaire Tom Steyer.

The current standard, established by the Arizona Corporation Commission, is for utilities to get to 15 percent by 2025. That standard has not changed since 2006.

Other states around Arizona have adopted more aggressive goals.

In Colorado, for examples, utilities have to get to 30 percent by 2020. New Mexico wants its utilities to get to 20 percent by that date, with a 25 percent requirement by 2025 in Nevada and 20 percent by 2025 in Utah.

California already is requiring its utilities to get to 50 percent by 2030.

Arizona Public Service was at the forefront of the opposition amid disputed claims that requiring “renewable” energy versus “clean” energy would endanger operation of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. APS operates the plant but owns just 29.1 percent of it; Salt River Project, which owns another 17.5 percent, is unaffected by the initiative.

Andy Tobin, a member of the commission, has his own plan for an 80 percent “clean energy” standard, something that would allow APS to take credit for its nuclear power. But that would not kick in until 2050 and Tobin has been unable to date to get other commissioners to go along.

Proposition 126

Money raised to convince Arizonans to constitutionally bar the Legislature from ever expanding the state’s 5.6 percent sales tax to services apparently also paid off.

Financed by state and national Realtors, proponents of Proposition 126 claimed that “politicians are plotting” to raise more money with a sales tax on services. Left out of all that is that lawmakers already are free to do that and have not; one bill to tax repair and maintenance of cars, homes and personal property never got a committee hearing.

Opponents had nowhere near the $10 million the Realtors had set aside and in fact were soliciting $10 donations as recent as Friday.

They sought to make the argument that it makes no sense to remove one option from the toolbox of places to raise revenue. If nothing else, foes said, it could preclude the ability of state lawmakers from using any funds raised on a tax on services to lower other sources of revenue, like income taxes.

The issue was one of the few on which incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey and challenger David Garcia could agree: Both opposed the measure.

Proposition 306

To hear proponents of Proposition 306 explain it, the measure would prevent candidates who get public funds for their campaigns from giving the dollars to political parties and other outside groups.

Introduced and pushed through by Republican lawmakers, the proposal was in reaction to the fact that the Citizens Clean Election Commission allows candidates to buy services from outside groups. Supporters of the ballot measure said that effectively has public dollars subsidizing political parties.

The bipartisan commission defended the practice, saying there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that the dollars are being spent only for legitimate services.

But the potentially more far-reaching aspect of Proposition 306 — one not widely publicized by proponents — was designed to require the commission to get approval of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council for any changes in rules.

This is crucial as the Republican-controlled Legislature has repealed laws requiring “social welfare” groups that seek to influence Arizona elections to disclose the source of their funding.

The commission, however, has its own requirements for disclosure. And because the commission was created by voters, lawmakers cannot alter its powers.

What Proposition 306 proposed was a work-around.

Instead of asking voters to rescind the commission’s disclosure rules — a likely non-starter among voters — it sought to amend the law that created the commission to require its rules to be reviewed by GRRC. And that panel is made up entirely of people appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey who has been a supporter of removing disclosure requirements.

Proposition 125

Voters also were being asked to amend a section of the Arizona Constitution dealing with pension benefits for state employees.

The change is being sought in Proposition 125 is a bid to bring some more financial stability to the plans that now cover active and retired corrections officers and elected officials. In essence, it would change the method of providing annual pension benefit increases to link it to the cost of living.

It has to go to voters because the state constitution currently prohibits anything that diminishes pension benefits for public employees.

Propositions By The Numbers

Proposition 125: Yes 53 percent,  No 47 percent

Proposition 126: Yes 66 percent,  No 34 percent

Proposition 127: Yes 30 percent,  No 30 percent

Proposition 306: Yes 56 percent,  No 44 percent

Public health advocates campaign for Prop 127

Dr. Bob England, former director of the Maricopa County Health Department, explains Tuesday why he believes air quality will be better if voters approve Proposition 127. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Dr. Bob England, former director of the Maricopa County Health Department, explains Tuesday why he believes air quality will be better if voters approve Proposition 127. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Public health advocates urged voters Tuesday to support a renewable energy mandate on the November ballot even though not one of them could say how much of a difference it actually would make in ground-level air pollution.

And a state utility regulator urged a vote against Proposition 127 even though he conceded that his colleagues, who already have the power to mandate more renewable energy, have yet to do much of anything about it.

JoAnna Strother, regional director for public policy for the American Lung Association, said Phoenix is one of the 10 worst areas in the country for ozone pollution.

“There are compelling health reasons why Proposition 127 makes sense from the public health perspective,” said Mary Ellen Cunningham, president of the Arizona Public Health Association.

“The bottom line is, burning fossil fuel, including natural gas, creates air emissions,” she continued. “That’s oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. And that’s ozone.”

But standing outside the office of the Lung Association, near a busy Phoenix intersection, no one could say what percentage of pollution being inhaled was due to power plants versus vehicle traffic.

“As much as it would be desirable to have exact precise forecast numbers on every issue, sometimes you just can’t answer the question,” said Dr. Bob England, the former Maricopa County health director.

But England said that instinctively the air would be better if Proposition 127 is approved than if it is not and utilities remain free to go ahead with plans to build more gas-fired power plants to meet future needs.

“I can’t give you a number how much is going to happen 20 years from now,” he said, saying variables include the kind of transportation available and what’s being used to fuel vehicles.

“Some things you just can’t answer,” England said. “But common sense says you don’t want to go the other direction.”

Proposition 127 if approved by voters would constitutionally require most utilities to generate at least 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

What is known is that utilities are looking at additional gas-fired plants in that time frame, plants that Dylan Sullivan of the Natural Resources Defense Council said would not be needed if utilities were forced instead to get more of their power from renewable sources. And Sullivan cited figures which predict a 51 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides, a precursor of ozone, by 2030.

But that is a reduction in what comes from power plants and does not reflect various other – and larger – sources of pollution. And there is some data to suggest that the pollution from gas-fired power plants is a very small portion of what affects most urban dwellers.

In Pima County, for example, 46 percent of nitrogen oxides come from on-road vehicle use. By contrast 20 percent is from “point sources,” of which Pima County records show more than half is from the CalPortland cement plant at Rillito and 34 percent of that 20 percent – or less than 7 percent – comes from the gas-fired Irvington power plant.

Joe Barrios of Tucson Electric Power said there is a plan to build one new higher-efficiency gas-fired power plant. But he said most of the future needs will be met with solar and wind, to the point where his utility could get to 30 percent renewable by 2030.

Arizona Public Service has plans to build what could amount to an additional 12 gas-fired power plants between now and 2030, presumably in the Phoenix urban area.

But Jeff Burke, the company’s resource manager, said that’s not certain.

“When solar with a battery is competitive, we’ll take it,” he said, saying the key is meeting future energy needs in the most efficient way possible. “We’re trying to do an all-of-the-above approach.”

Also Tuesday, Andy Tobin, one of the state’s five utility regulators, came out against Proposition 127. Tobin said questions of what are appropriate resources should be left to him and his colleagues on the Arizona Corporation Commission. And he said having standards set by the commission provide more flexibility as needs – and costs – change, versus a constitutional mandate for 50 percent renewables.

He conceded, though, the five-member, all-Republican commission to date has done very little to convince the public that it is really interested in pursuing more renewable energy. In fact, the current standard for utilities of 15 percent renewable energy by 2025 has not been changed since 2006.

“They don’t want to pull the trigger,” he said of his colleagues. “I’m very frustrated.”

That, Tobin said, could lead voters to decide that the only real way to get any meaningful action is by approving Proposition 127.

Tobin crafted his own plan nearly a year ago for an 80 percent “clean” energy standard. But utilities would not need to reach that goal until 2050. And they could meet some of that with nuclear power.

What’s particularly annoying, Tobin said, is that his plan was on the table months before there even was a Proposition 127, much less the more than $8.2 million in funding for it from California billionaire Tom Steyer.

And he even got the commission to approve a moratorium on new gas-fired power plants – the ones the utilities say in their long-term resource plans they intend to build – until the end of the year. The premise, Tobin said, is that would give the regulators a chance to review, adjust and finally adopt his plan before utilities start construction.

But Tobin has yet to get the votes to actually advance his plan. Still, he said, voters should have faith that the commission eventually will act on his plan, or some variation of it, and reject Proposition 127.

Campaign spokesman D.J. Quinlan acknowledged that the commission could increase the current renewable energy standard, including adopting the Tobin plan. But he questioned whether the commission, at least as currently constituted, would pursue anything that Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility – and source of $11 million in funds so far to fight the initiative – does not support.

“I think there’s a reason why APS spent millions of dollars electing their hand-picked corporation commissioners,” he said.

That refers to $4.2 million that Pinnacle West Capital Corp., APS’ parent, admitted spending in 2016 to defeat Democrat candidates for the commission. And Pinnacle West will neither admit nor deny it was the source of $3.2 million spent to elect Republicans in 2014.

But Quinlan dodged repeated questions about why California billionaire Tom Steyer has put in more than $8.2 million from his own political action committee to convince Arizonans to adopt the constitutional change envisioned in Prop 127.


Question of signature validity at heart of challenge to energy measure

Nuclear power plant in France

The question of whether voters get to decide on a new renewable energy mandate for utilities could turn, in part, on how many petition signatures a judge lets Arizona Public Service challenge.

Attorney Brett Johnson contends that close to 70 percent of the more than 480,000 signatures submitted on the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative campaign are not valid. Some of the challenges are based on things like whether the circulator was legally entitled to gather signatures and questions about whether the petitions were properly notarized.

But Johnson, representing a committee financed by the parent company of the state’s largest electric utility, also alleges that more than half of the signatures are invalid on their face, whether due to the people not registered to vote in Arizona or that their signatures are not proper. That claim alone, if proven, potentially leaves the petition drive short of the 225,963 valid signatures required to put the issue on the November ballot.

Only thing is, Arizona law does not require county recorders to check the validity of every signature.

Instead, they review a random sample of 5 percent. Then they extrapolate the validity rate of that sample onto the full list.

On Monday, attorney Jim Barton who represents the initiative organizers told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley that Johnson and his clients have no legal standing to try to force the counties to do a signature-by-signature check.

It’s not just Barton who is making that argument.

Colleen Connor, a deputy Maricopa County attorney, said it would be “impossible” for her county recorder to check every signature that Johnson contends is invalid. And Daniel Jurkowitz of Cochise County, told Kiley such a mandate would be illegal.

“What plaintiffs are asking is for the court to create new election procedures,” he said.

Jessica Sabo of Yavapai County put a finer point on it.

“This is pandemonium, your honor,” she said.

Johnson, however, said the 5 percent sample is just one method of determining validity. And he pointed out a section of law specifically says that “any person may contest the validity of an initiative or referendum.”

Kiley has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday to consider the issue.

Even if Johnson loses that argument, he has a veritable grab-bag of other legal reasons that Kiley could knock the measure off the ballot when there is a full trial, now set for Aug. 20.

At issue is whether voters get to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution mandating that at least 50 percent of electricity generated in the state come from renewable sources by 2030. That compares with an Arizona Corporation Commission rule requiring 15 percent of power from sources like solar, wind and geothermal by 2025.

If approved, it would apply to APS, Tucson Electric, UniSource and a host of smaller private utilities and cooperatives. But it would not apply to utilities classified as government corporations, notably Salt River Project.

In fact, Johnson contends the failure of initiative organizers to point up that fact is one reason it should not go on the ballot.

More immediate for Kiley to decide is Johnson’s contention that he’s entitled to challenge every signature he believes is questionable, rather than simply relying on the random sample.

“If you’re starting with a premise of flooding the system with 480,000 signatures, and then you’re only doing a 5 percent ratio of that entire signature (list), the mathematics work in favor of somebody who floods the system,” Johnson said.

Barton said Johnson can’t demand such a signature-by-signature check, no matter what his math theory.

“There’s no authority to go in and challenge the registration of signatures that are outside that 5 percent,” he said. Barton said the provision that used to allow that was repealed by the Legislature “because, frankly, the county recorders have not been able to do it for a long time.”

In the lawsuit, Johnson also says the 100-word description of the initiative, provided by the organizers, “is misleading to the point of fraud.” That includes failing to list which utilities are exempt, the sources of funding for the measure and the effects on consumer costs of electricity.

That last point, however, is subject to debate: Both sides have produced studies with vastly different conclusions on whether mandating more solar and wind will make power more or less expensive.

Johnson also said the summary “also perpetuates the inaccurate message that nuclear power is not a form of clean energy.”

Separately, he contends the paperwork for the measure fails to inform voters that the proposal is the work of NextGen America, a political action committee financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer. Barton, however, counters that NextGen’s involvement is disclosed through filings with the Secretary of State’s Office showing it is pretty much the source of all the money spent so far to collect the signatures.

Renewable energy investment crucial to grow Arizona economy


It’s been more than a decade since the Arizona Corporation Commission approved the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, requiring Arizona utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

So much has changed since the Republican-led commission in 2006 moved our state toward a healthier and more prosperous future in clean energy.

Indeed, Arizona was a trailblazer for this forward-looking policy. But sadly, we’ve fallen behind. Over the past year, many other states have begun moving towards higher renewable energy standards.

Fred Davis
Fred Davis

The commission is once again poised to discuss its renewable energy policy, and it’s unclear whether commissioners have the wherewithal to increase it, let alone keep it in place.

Here’s a fact: If Arizona doesn’t get on board, we will be sidelined as spectators watching other states reap the economic benefits of solar, wind and other clean resources.

Why? Renewable energy resources have become readily available and are now more affordable than their fossil-fuel counterparts like gas and coal. Study after study from credible, independent sources show that solar and wind are the cheapest technology for producing electricity.

Thankfully, SRP has responded to these lower costs with plans for 1,000 megawatts of solar. In contrast, APS plans only 100 megawatts of solar and will buy energy produced by natural gas, imported from other states.

In fact, APS’s 2017 annual report shows its ownership of solar to be less than 10 percent of the total power they sell. APS ratepayers and Arizona citizens deserve better from our largest electric utility company in the state.

Other states are shutting down natural gas plants and replacing them with cheaper solar and batteries. Yet, APS is paying a third party to produce our power with natural gas. That production and the vast majority of those jobs reside out of state.

While renewable energy has proven to offer lower emissions, we must also consider the significant impact it has on in-state job growth, economic development and benefits for large and small businesses. As more renewable energy practices are established and implemented in Arizona, more jobs will be created. From construction to advanced technology jobs, Arizona employment will see an immediate uptick.

As a ratepayer, I would like for the power I use to be clean, cheap and healthy. And made by Arizona workers with abundant Arizona sunshine. Raising the renewable energy standard to meet or even exceed the goals of other states should be strongly supported. Raising our standards not only means getting on board with the goals of other states, but also sends the message that Arizona is an economic leader.

We all know that implementing higher renewable energy standards in Arizona will help reduce emissions, diversify our energy and set the stage for a sustainable future – and that’s important.

But, investing in the business of renewable energy is crucial for supporting a growing Arizona economy.

Fred Davis is a concerned Arizona resident. 

Renewable energy makes Arizona stronger

The U.S. Senate’s recent passage of a bipartisan infrastructure deal was an important first step toward growing our economy. But many of the most important provisions, particularly those that would enable more renewable energy, are still up for debate in this year’s budget bill. As the operations manager for EDP Renewables’ Sun Streams Solar Park outside of Phoenix, I get a first-hand look at how renewable energy is helping our state every day and the benefits that are possible if we continue to grow this industry.   

Natalie Currie

Let’s start with the jobs. Renewable energy jobs are growing in Arizona, and they pay nearly 15% higher than the statewide median wage. There are hundreds of opportunities during the construction phase of a major project like Sun Streams, and each project employs full-time technicians to handle operations and maintenance once the site is up and running. Many of the technicians I work with at Sun Streams are military veterans. The renewable energy sector has become a great landing spot for veterans who developed helpful technical or mechanical skills during their military service.  

Renewable energy projects also provide other direct economic benefits to Arizona communities. Projects operating in the state will pay more than $30 million in property, state and local taxes this year alone. We are proud to contribute to the tax base, which helps fund schools and emergency services.  

We also look for other ways to make a positive impact in the communities where we live and work, whether it’s contributing to local food banks during the Covid pandemic or establishing an emergency fund for area schools that helps pay for things like backpacks, coats and uniforms. I also love hosting students for educational tours and encouraging young people who may not have thought about renewables as a career option to take advantage of STEM programs. Renewable energy jobs are open to everybody, and I am thrilled to see the sector making significant strides when it comes to diversity.   

The environmental benefits of renewable energy are always at the top of my mind as well. Every day at work, I see rows of solar panels producing affordable clean energy for our communities. As a mother, I want to leave a cleaner planet for our children, their children, and generations to come. If there is one thing I would like the public to know about the renewable energy industry, it’s that we are doing this work because it helps everyone.  

That’s why I’m hopeful that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and other Arizona leaders support clean energy. Renewable energy is ready today and is creating the jobs of the future  it’s a great time for all Arizonans to get on board!  

 Natalie Currie works for EDP Renewables North America as an operations manager at Sun Streams Solar Park in Maricopa County. 


Rising electricity prices to come as wind, solar mandates increase


California continues to lead the nation in mandating the deployment of wind and solar power. Unfortunately, that translates into rising electricity costs that are now poised to climb higher. It’s a development that should concern families in every state.

Since 2011, electricity prices in California have jumped 30 percent – the most  expensive in the western United States. And there’s no sign that this steady increase will ease.

While California’s renewable energy targets are particularly aggressive, they’re not the outlier one might imagine. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have renewable energy mandates for ever-increasing amounts of wind and solar power. These mandates tend to be expensive.

Matthew Kandrach
Matthew Kandrach

A recent analysis from the University of Chicago found that mandates drive up electricity prices. After seven years, consumers in these states paid $125 billion more for electricity than they otherwise would.

While the cost of solar arrays and wind turbines has fallen, the expense of integrating them onto the grid is rising. A higher percentage of these weather-dependent sources of electricity means more expense to balance out their peaks and valleys.

In California, for example, the state’s solar generation can produce far too much power in the middle of the day, forcing ratepayers to pay when other states absorb it. And when that solar generation fades in the evening, or fails during bad weather, ratepayers must pay top dollar to import electricity from neighboring states. This selling low and buying high is the opposite of sound economics.

Wind generation poses similar problems. A think-tank led by President Obama’s former Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, found that California went 90 days with little or no wind power in 2017. That included multiple gaps when wind generation wasn’t available for several days. This dependence on variable electricity is monumentally challenging. And batteries are hardly a cure-all since the best grid-scale batteries provide just four to six hours of backup, hardly enough to handle days or weeks when solar and wind power are unavailable.

Defenders of California’s renewable-first policy say that the state’s average residential electricity bills are relatively low. But that has little to do with the merits of the policy and everything to do with a temperate climate where Californians simply use less energy.

Move California’s electricity prices to other states where consumers frequently run air conditioning and heat pumps and the same electricity rates would be devastating. And yet, California’s energy approach is being replicated across the country, with little understanding of the potential consequences.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently reported that 78 utilities proposed electricity rate increases last year, the highest number since 1983. If anyone believes that moving from reliable, baseload power to weather-dependent, renewable sources of electricity wouldn’t come with rising costs, that bubble is about to burst.

Public utility commissioners and policymakers need to think very carefully about passing the costs of these mandates onto consumers. Trading reliable, affordable power for less reliable, more costly alternatives deserves serious scrutiny.

Matthew Kandrach is the president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy (CASE), a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization.

Rudderless leadership on energy hurts Arizona ratepayers

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

A few weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed for the Capitol Times praising Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson for her prior support of common-sense clean energy rules that would reduce electricity rates and attract more business to the state. She voted in favor of these rules last fall.

However, when those same rules were up for a final vote last week at the commission’s May 5 meeting, Márquez Peterson preformed one of the most stunning and inexplicable flip-flops imaginable.

She voted in favor of Commissioner Justin Olson’s amendment to dramatically weaken the rule she had staunchly defended in the weeks leading up to the vote. In fact, Márquez Peterson had rejected Olson’s very same motion back in November.

The four years of analysis, debate, and stakeholder involvement she often touted no longer mattered. Her claims that the new rules would be “an economic development driver for the state” no longer mattered. Strong support for the rules by Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power, and Southwest Gas no longer mattered.

Her stated excuse for this acrobatic reversal was that she “could not in good conscience support a rule in which we did not know the financial impact to the ratepayer.”

The problem with that argument is that we do know what the financial impact to the ratepayer would have been: cheaper electricity!

David Jenkins
David Jenkins

There is no mystery here. Due to aging coal and gas generating plants becoming more costly to maintain and operate, electricity from those sources costs between $45 and $80 per megawatt hour (MWh). New solar plants generated electricity paired with storage for night generation is selling for between $14 and $25 per MWh—and that price is locked in for the next 20 years!

One does not exactly need to be a math whiz to figure this out.

The proposed Energy Rules would have moved Arizona to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Clean energy being primarily solar and nuclear, two sources that play to Arizona’s strengths.

The only conceivable wild card regarding price would be if utilities were forced to retire existing coal or gas plants early. But that is not the case. Remember, we are talking about 2050. By that time, every existing coal or gas plant will already be well beyond its projected life.

That is why it was so easy for APS and TEP to support the proposed Energy Rules.

The low cost of solar and storage has dramatically transformed the energy market in the Southwestern U.S. over the past several years. That is why in 2019 the Nevada legislature unanimously passed a renewable energy standard of 50% by 2030. Every single Republican voted for it!

Why? Because they did the math and realized that overreliance on aging power plants and out-of-state natural gas was hurting ratepayers.

In fact, all of Arizona’s neighboring states have moved to take advantage of low cost solar for their ratepayers. In addition to Nevada’s 50% renewable standard, New Mexico and California both have a 100% clean by 2045 standard, and numerous localities in southern Utah have enacted 100 percent clean by 2030.

By weakening and thus sinking the rules, Márquez Peterson has ensured that Arizona, with its old and paltry 15% by 2025 standard, will fall far behind those neighboring states in attracting businesses that have set their own internal clean energy goals.

She has also ensured that Arizona families and businesses will see higher utility bills because the state will not be taking full advantage of its massive solar potential and the resulting savings in electricity costs.

The last commission meeting was a troubling example of failed leadership. Márquez Peterson now has a choice. She can double down on her mistake at the expense of Arizona’s future, or she show real leadership by putting the original Rules up for reconsideration in the next few weeks—and take the do over.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship (CRS), a national nonprofit organization with more than 800 members in Arizona.

Senate to vote on taking power from regulators

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

Rejecting arguments about economic development, clean air and even constitutional issues, a Senate panel voted along party lines March 31 to strip the Arizona Corporation Commission of its power to set energy policy for utilities. 

The 6-4 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee followed arguments by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, that it was wrong of the independently elected utility regulators to propose that half of the state’s energy be generated by carbon-free sources by 2035 and have power be totally carbon free by 2050. She said the commissioners failed to consider the cost implications for consumers of having to give up on coal- and gas-fired power plants. 

That contention was questioned by several witnesses, some of whom represent those involved in solar technology, who said that wind and solar are now less expensive. 

But the real question is whether lawmakers have the power to wrest from the regulators the authority to set energy policy. 

Griffin is relying on a ruling last year by the Arizona Supreme Court dealing with a fight over control of Johnson Utilities. 

In that ruling, the justices said the Arizona Constitution gives commissioners absolute power to set rates. But they said that authority over health and safety questions is shared with the Legislature. 

HB2248 amounts to the Legislature asserting what it says is its right to overrule the regulators. 

That legal conclusion, however, may not be entirely correct. 

Amanda Ormond, a consultant who used to run the state Energy Office, said th2020 case did not directly challenge the authority of the commission to determine renewable energy standards. She said that was specifically addressed in a 2011 ruling of the state Supreme Court which concluded that the regulators were free to require utilities to buy or generate power from solar, wind and other sources – even if that costs more for ratepayers. 

And Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said she has an opinion from legislative lawyers who say that this particular bill – pre-empting carbon-emission standards enacted by the commission – would be unconstitutional. 

Of note is that none of the state’s major investor-owned utilities, the firms that have to live under the commission rules, have testified in support of the measure. In fact, Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric supplier, is actively opposing HB2248, saying that it would create “legal and regulatory uncertainties” and arguing that “energy policy is within the purview of the Arizona Corporation Commission.” 

And in a formal statement of opposition, the company agreed that the 2020 Supreme Court decision – the one on which Griffin is relying – is ambiguous. 

What is also true is that APS already has plans to be carbon-free by 2050. That includes nuclear.  

And Tucson Electric Power, which has no stake in a nuclear power plant, said it will have 70% of its power from renewable sources by 2035. 

But Griffin was undeterred. 

“Nowhere does it give the Corporation Commission the authority to make energy policy,” she said. 

What’s worse, Griffin said, is her contention that the commissioners ignored key issues in adopting their latest goals. 

“The commission adopted energy rules without producing or evaluating proposed financial impacts the proposed rules would have on its ratepayers,” she said, something she called “unacceptable.” 

“That’s who we represent, the ratepayers,” Griffin said. 

JoAnna Struther of the Arizona Lung Association said she sees the legislation through a different lens. She said the measure “will set back clean energy programs that will improve air quality and create a healthy climate for all Arizonans.” 

“This bill would reverse progress towards cleaner air and can have serious consequences on air quality standards and our health,” Struther said, saying it “endangers public health.” 

Griffin’s measure pretty much leaves in place the original standards adopted by the commission more than a decade ago. Her bill would require utilities to have 15% of the energy from renewable resources by 2026. 

And Shelby Stults with Advanced Energy Economy, a trade group representing those involved in new technology, said scrapping the new standards will put more than 41,000 jobs at risk. 

Griffin’s measure leaves in place the original standards adopted by the commission more than a decade ago. They require utilities to have 15% of the energy from renewable resources by 2026. 

But it would leave any further adjustments in the hands of future legislators. 

Unadjusted, it also would put Arizona behind many other states in the region, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

In California, for example, utilities are supposed to reach 100% clean energy by 2045. 

New Mexico’s goal is to has a zero-carbon standard by 2045, with Nevada having that same goal in 2050. 

But Utah has a renewable portfolio goal, essentially a voluntary target, of 20% by 2025. 

The measure, which already has cleared the Arizona House, faces an uncertain future when it goes to the full Senate. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has publicly questioned the wisdom of having the Arizona Legislature, which has no full-time staff devoted to energy policy, in charge of reviewing future changes. With all Democrats opposed, Republicans would need all 16 of its senators to support the measure to have it approved. 


Solar group: Prop. 127 is ‘reckless, restrictive and inflexible’


The Distributed Energy Resource Alliance (DERA), composed of solar industry companies, professionals and educators, urges Arizonans to vote no on Proposition 127.

We can all agree that using less fossil fuels and more renewable energy is good for Arizona. We believe that replacing carbon-based energy generation with clean renewable energy generators, such as solar and wind, is good for our health, our climate and our financial well-being. There is no doubt that burning fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gases, releases harmful levels of toxins into our atmosphere and is dangerous to our health, the health of our children and to our global climate.

Joe Cunningham
Joe Cunningham

However, DERA opposes Proposition 127 because of its intent to amend the Arizona Constitution.  A constitutional mandate that states where 50 percent of our energy is to come from is reckless, restrictive and inflexible.

If the proposition passes and the mandate becomes a part of our Constitution, we may find that we need to utilize developing, or undefined, technologies, methodologies and goals that we simply will not be able to act on in the future because they are not permitted by the Constitution.

We acknowledge and support the need to adopt new technologies, to advance clean renewable energy generation and to provide for a more efficient integration with the utility grid. Technologies and policies must be implemented to allow more distributed renewable energy resources to connect to and integrate with the grid without sacrificing safety, reliability and efficiencies for all consumers.

If any of these options are prohibited or unclear due to this proposed amendment, they will require changing the Constitution – a monumental task in the future. Consequently, we may find that clean renewable energy growth is ultimately hampered by Proposition 127.

Solar energy is an amazing option for consumers who want to have a choice in how they receive energy and save money. But, too much solar energy creates grid problems that did not exist just five years ago. Historically, a solar PV system for one consumer provided 100 percent of its capacity as a benefit to the utility grid. However, at 5 percent penetration (Arizona is already over 5 percent) the capacity value of another solar system on the grid drops to a fraction of its generating capacity, and it gets worse as penetration increases. This is the reality of our antiquated utility grid.

Renewable policy in Arizona, and elsewhere, must consider transforming to a more integrated grid – one that supports distributed, individual energy generation. Solutions that we know of today, such as battery storage, energy management, demand management, thermal storage, energy efficiency products and more, can help with grid integration. However, much more is required than what we have available now.

There is no doubt that Arizonans, and those of us in the renewable energy industry, want a sustainable, long-term plan that promotes global health, local employment opportunities and benefits for our families. But consider this: We are technologists with long-term goals who do not want to be boxed in by a constitutional amendment. We are pragmatists who believe in a future that relies on clean, sustainable, reliable, and safe energy for everyone. Proposition 127 is too restrictive and permanent for our young industry to know if it will be helpful, or harmful, in years to come.

DERA’s goal is to form a collaboration between incumbent utility companies and renewable energy, such as solar, and other distributed energy resource companies to help with this transformation. DERA members understand what consumers want and the technology and policies required in order to make it possible.

We think about what comes next and we are planning for the future of our businesses. Our goals call for unhampered growth of clean renewable energy, distributed renewable energy resources available to all consumers, a utility grid that has transformed enough to handle it and the success of our businesses for many years to come.

We strongly encourage all stakeholders, legislators, the commission, utility companies, renewable integrators and the public to work together quickly to find a solution that paves the way for successful adoption of increased renewable energy standards and grid integration plans that benefit all of us. Proposition 127 is not that solution.

— Joe Cunningham is president of the Distributed Energy Resource Alliance and director of operations for Sunny Energy.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

State must modernize energy rules by increasing renewable standards


Arizona utility regulators did a big thing recently, though it largely went unnoticed.

They should be commended for coming together in bipartisan fashion to support a plan that has the potential to help facilitate Arizona’s energy demands while creating local jobs and saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Arizona Corporation Commissioners Bob Burns, Boyd Dunn, Sandra Kennedy and Lea Márquez Peterson voted to expand the state’s Energy Efficiency Standard. Simply put, this means businesses, customers, schools and nonprofits will have access to energy-saving programs and rebates to help them reduce energy use and implement the most efficient technologies in their homes, workplaces and companies.

Indeed, this was a huge step forward for our state. But the chance to create a generational transformation of our energy portfolio still remains. On October 29, 2020, the commissioners have an historic opportunity to strengthen our state’s energy rules by voting to require utilities to generate at least 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 and be 100% carbon-free by 2045.

Renewable energy is a powerful solution to restoring economic security at a time when Arizonans need it most. The state must get on a fast-track toward modernizing its energy rules to regain the momentum we worked so hard to create.

The Arizona Technology Council has long called upon on the Corporation Commission to increase the state’s renewable standards.

Steve Zylstra
Steve Zylstra

Why? For us, it boils down to supporting the sector we serve. Arizona’s technology ecosystem is surging, especially in the clean-energy space.  Arizona’s strong innovation in electric vehicle manufacturing, building the solar grid at a rapid pace, designing electric airplanes and making global advancements in water technology, just to name a few, illustrate the tremendous potential for scaling clean energy infrastructure and market development in the Southwest.

In March, business nonprofit entity Ceres published a report that for the first time measured the impact of Arizona’s renewable energy standard since it was established in 2006.

The report found the standard has provided significant economic and environmental benefits, including scaling investments and driving down energy costs through technology. Solar industry investments alone were pegged at almost $12 billion, which has stimulated job growth and market development.

But this standard now lags other states by being the lowest renewable energy requirement in the West. Since then, major corporations have embraced climate pledges and many of the world’s biggest and most innovative companies are pursuing ambitious renewable energy policies.

It’s important to note that the state’s major utilities — Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power and Salt River Project — have all independently put forth goals to substantially reduce carbon emissions and produce energy from renewable or clean sources.

A strong vote at the Corporation Commission would turn these goals into reality and send a clear signal to the market that Arizona is once again ready to be a leader in clean energy.

Renewable energy is the answer to moving our state toward a cleaner, more prosperous future. And the Arizona Corporation Commission has the opportunity to make a lasting legacy in Arizona’s energy future.

Steven G. Zylstra is president & CEO of the Arizona Technology Council and the SciTech Institute.

Stronger renewable energy standard good for state’s economy

Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011. A new report says installation continued to be the largest job sector in solar-related industries last year. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Workers install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011.  (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission made a smart decision for the state by passing the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, commonly referred to as REST. It’s a decision all Arizonans continue to benefit from more than a decade later.

Arizona’s REST currently requires that 15% of the state’s energy come from renewable energy resources by 2025. When we established REST during my time as a commissioner, this was a forward-thinking goal and one that put Arizona on a path toward a thriving clean energy economy. With a first-of-its-kind report released earlier this month by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, we now know that adopting Arizona’s REST was the right move for the state’s economy, its residents and the environment.

Kris Mayes
Kris Mayes

Since its adoption in 2006, REST has delivered a multitude of benefits to Arizonans from avoided energy and generation costs to water savings and technology cost reductions. All told, the policy has led to nearly $2 billion in gross benefits for the public and customers of Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power.

The benefits of REST also extend beyond utilities and their customers. REST has been instrumental in driving economic development across the state and has spurred investments that have helped to grow a job market as skilled workers are needed to manufacture, install and operate new renewable technologies here in Arizona. To date, the policy has attracted more than $11 billion in investments to the state’s solar industry — making good use of Arizona’s ample sunshine. These investments have led to new, high-quality jobs for more than 7,500 Arizonans.

Importantly, a significant amount of renewable energy investments are happening in Arizona’s rural communities. That means that all Arizonans are able to benefit from these new jobs, improved air quality and increased tax revenues. These investments have also helped to reduce Arizona’s water consumption — which is extremely important to our desert communities.

The economic benefits of deploying renewable energy are only poised to grow as technology costs rapidly decline. So, it’s good to see Arizona utilities seizing the opportunities of the transition to a low-carbon future. For example, earlier this year, APS committed to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to its customers by 2050. The utility also announced interim goals to achieve 45% renewable energy by 2030 and retire its coal generation by 2031 — ensuring it stays on target for 100% carbon free electricity.

This announcement is among the most ambitious in the industry. And while APS has and should continue to be applauded, we need more than their commitment. We also need strong policies in place to keep the entire state driving toward a low-carbon future and build on all the success of the REST.

With that in mind, the Arizona Corporation Commission is currently considering adopting a stronger REST. Doing so will help ensure these new goals from APS are effectively implemented with ratepayer interests in mind. In addition, as the Ceres report shows, expanding the REST to 45% renewable energy by 2030 would help Arizona build on this success by generating an additional billion dollars in net benefits over the next 10 years.

Thanks to this report, the benefits of REST are clear — and there are even more for Arizona to take advantage of by strengthening the policy. The numbers speak for themselves. I hope the commission takes note of this and feels confident that a stronger REST is the right move for Arizonans.

Kris Mayes is a professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. She served on the Arizona Corporation Commission from 2003 to 2010, and helped co-author the Arizona Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff.

The Breakdown, Episode 8: Collateral damage


Steve Montenegro
Steve Montenegro

Collateral damage isn’t uncommon in the world of politics.

As scandal erupted in the Republican special primary election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, a Senate staffer was revealed to have exchanged suggestive text messages with former state Sen. Steve Montenegro – and the way in which the messages were first obtained may have been an act of revenge porn.

Meanwhile, progressives believe the power of the people may be the target of bills that simultaneously seem to be strengthening the will of lawmakers. And you can expect a bunch of cash to be pumped into the fight for the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot measure. The measure may have a California billionaire behind it, but Pinnacle West is already leading the charge against it.

At least we have Jelani Sample to bring the tension down a notch.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Little Idea” and “House” by Bensound.

Top 5 reasons why SRP should not expand Coolidge gas generating station

The Salt River Project District board on Sept. 13 approved a nearly $900 million expansion of the Coolidge Generating Station, which burns natural gas. The decision is wrong for SRP customers and for all Arizonans, for a variety of reasons. Here are the top five: 

  1. Our climate is heating up, and there is no time left to waste to turn to clean energy.

 The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has shown that this decade is our last chance to transform our energy system to zero greenhouse gas emissions before irreversible damage is done to our climate. Producing, transmitting, storing, and burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Expanding the Coolidge Power Plant would lock SRP into using natural gas for decades, at the precise time when we need to be moving away from fossil-fuel sources and toward clean energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies. 

  1. Natural gas power plants are a poor investment and will cost customers money for years to come.
Lauren Kuby
Lauren Kuby

The utility claims they will use Coolidge as a “peaker plant” and will run only when demand is high. If true, it is a terrible strategy to not pay back or profit from your investment. Solar and wind are already cost-competitive with new natural gas plants and, when used dynamically with other technologies like batteries, energy-efficiency measures, and demand-response programs, provide reliable electric service during peak-use times. SRP should have issued a technology-neutral, competitive procurement process to discover the most affordable option for SRP customers. In addition to plant costs, customers will have to pay for the generating fuel. In fact, SRP customers are about to see an average 3.9% increase in their bill solely due to natural gas and other fuel costs. With energy efficiency and renewable technologies, there are no fuels and no fuel-related costs. The sad fact is that customers will be on the hook for this massive investment for several decades — whether the plant and its fuel are economical or not. In addition, expanding the gas plant will impede progress on renewable-energy adoption as special interests seek out politicians to protect their investment. 

  1. The reliability of natural gas is overstated.

 Did you know Arizona must transport all of its natural gas fuel from other states? Last winter, when most of Texas froze over, oil and gas wells stopped producing, which led to a natural gas shortage. In fact, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to stop natural gas supplies from shipping to other states, and gas prices spiked. Here in Arizona, utilities asked customers to conserve electricity during that time, in the event of a statewide gas shortage. Extreme weather also impacts natural gas power plants. In extreme weather, gas plants experience a decrease in output and, across the globe, unusually hot summers have led to gas plants completely shutting down, leading to blackouts. 

  1. Natural gas uses our precious water resources.

Recent groundwater supply models have found that Pinal County’s groundwater will be stressed in the coming decades. Natural gas steam turbine units, like the ones at the Coolidge Power Plant, use water to operate. Arizona is already water-stressed, and this situation will only worsen. SRP should be looking to other resources that do not dry up our state’s precious, and nonrenewable, water supplies. 

  1. Natural gas is unsafe.

In just the past month, Arizona experienced two explosions, and both blasts are suspected to be caused by natural gas pipeline leaks. One explosion occurred in Coolidge, across the street from the Coolidge Gas Generating Station. Tragically, two people were killed, including a child, and third person was severely injured. The other explosion occurred in Chandler, causing severe injury to four people and forcing families and businesses to evacuate for hours. While actual explosions are somewhat uncommon, gas leaks are not. Gas leaks expose all Arizonans to unnecessary risks not found with renewables or energy efficiency technologies. Natural gas is bad for our environment and human health. Other technologies like solar and energy efficiency offer cost-competitive reliability for our electric grid. The SRP board should outright reject this proposed natural gas plant expansion and embrace clean energy for a better future for all Arizonans.  

Lauren Kuby is a two-term Tempe councilmember, a senior global futures scientist at Arizona State University, and a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

 Editor’s note: This guest commentary was revised to reflect the SRP board’s approval of the project. 

Utilities must buy solar, renewable energy under long-term deals

power lines az electricity 620

Utilities are now required to enter into long-term contracts to buy power from solar and renewable energy generating stations under new policy established by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Solar advocates and environmental groups hailed the commission’s unanimous vote December 11 as a new day that will bring jobs and cleaner energy to the state, while utilities said the new rule will cost customers more over the long haul.

The commission’s decision extended the contracts between the utilities and the generating stations, known as qualifying facilities, to 18 years from two.

Under the federally mandated Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, monopoly utilities – the companies the commission regulates – are required to purchase power from qualified facilities at a rate fixed by regulators.

Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest utility, wanted these contracts to remain only in two-year durations, despite its own solar contracts lasting on average 28 to 30 years. APS was not alone in wanting the two-year deal to remain. Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Services, the two other largest monopolies regulated by the commission, also did not want to extend the contracts longer. The unanimous vote gave them no choice.

Solar advocates balked at the APS position, saying it would be nearly impossible to create a $100-million solar station, for example, in just two years. In 2016, APS argued that doing two-year contracts would save customers money in the long run if the price of renewable energy increased. That’s something the advocates and even commissioners argued against.

“Utilities don’t want competition,” Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson said before the December 11 vote. She said now that the cost of solar has dropped it has become affordable for other qualifying facilities to buy into solar and renewable energy, meaning it can be less-expensive than what utilities like APS, TEP and UNS are offering.

Plus, pointing to the long contracts utilities typically have in place, it would argue against their reasoning for only wanting two-year deals for the qualifying facilities.

APS spokeswoman Suzanne Trevino told Arizona Capitol Times via email that the decision to extend solar contracts to 18 years was “disappointing.”

“It ignored significant evidence presented during the hearings that demonstrated that extended contracts with qualifying facilities will cost utility customers more money over the long term,” Trevino said. “Development costs continue to decline for renewable energy resources, and this contract length will reduce our flexibility to respond to changes in technology and energy markets. APS is committed to delivering affordable, clean and reliable power to our customers, and we are reviewing next steps.” She did not respond to any further questions.

Despite APS’ disappointment that the commission opted to go against its wishes, advocates were elated with the unanimous vote.

Court Rich, an attorney with Rose Law Group who represents a qualifying facility, said this decision should bring a lot of new jobs and money to Arizona.

“The ACC’s decision is a homerun for the sunniest state in the country and it will hopefully lead to hundreds of megawatts of solar, thousands of jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment,” he said.

Likewise, The Sierra Club applauded the decision in a press release, saying that the two-year deals are “risky” when it comes to financing.

“Long-term contracts are therefore necessary to give renewable energy developers a reasonable opportunity to secure financing for these projects,” the release said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, added that this should put an end to the utilities controlling the market for clean energy.

“The frustrating reality is that our utilities keep clinging to dirty, over-priced fossil fuels despite all the potential for low cost solar here in the state, but this decision makes it harder for them to keep delaying our clean energy future,” Bahr said.

Solar advocates were only asking for a 15-year requirement when they brought the issue to the commission, but a last minute amendment from Commissioner Sandra Kennedy extended it to 18 years.

Utility files suit to halt renewable energy ballot measure

The parent company of the state’s largest electric utility filed suit Thursday in a bid to block voters from deciding if they want to impose new renewable energy mandates on power companies.

In a 48-page complaint, attorneys hired by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, funded by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., claim a series of legal flaws with the petitions submitted by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona seeking to amend the Arizona Constitution to require 50 percent of electricity generated by most power companies in Arizona come from renewable sources by 2030.

Initiative backers submitted more than 480,000 signatures. They need for 225,963 to be found valid to get the issue on the November ballot.

But attorney Brett Johnson, in the legal papers filed in Maricopa Couny Stuperior Court, claims more than 195,000 of the names are from people who are not registered to vote in Arizona, and that nearly 75,000 signatures were submitted on petitions where there was a missing or improper notarization, something required by law.

Other issues include signatures that do not match and petitions that were circulated before initiative backers got the proper registration number from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Matthew Benson
Matthew Benson

“There are a laundry list of issues,” said Matt Benson, spokesman for the utility-financed effort to quash the initiative. “But the point is, even all of those issues aside, obvious blatant deficiencies account for more than 300,000 signatures and push them well below the minimum threshold.”

Pinnacle West and its wholly owned Arizona Public Service subsidiary, however, are not counting solely on trying to disqualify some signatures in their bid to show that there are not enough valid names left to put the issue to voters. Johnson has a laundry list of reasons that he says would entitle asking Judge Daniel Kiley to void the entire petition drive, arguing that signers did not know what they were supporting.

For example, he noted that the measure is titled the “Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment.” But Johnson pointed out that the mandate for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 specifically excludes nuclear energy, a particular issue for Arizona Public Service, which is the major owner of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix. He said that fails to acknowledge that nuclear energy generates about 20 percent of power in the United States with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

And Johnson said the wording fails to inform people that the initiative would apply only to investor-owned utilities and cooperatives — and not to Salt River Project which is a “municipal corporation” and the second largest electric company in the state.

Rod McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, acknowledged that not every signature submitted ultimately will be found valid.

“The reason we handed in more than double the required amount is because we understand … that you’re going to have a certain number of them that come up wrong,” he said. “There’s always going to be mistakes,” McLeod continued.

That, he said, is the purpose behind the “cushion.”

“We are confident we have more valid signatures than the law requires and regard this lawsuit as foolish,” McLeod said. He called it “a desperate attempt to deny choice on what kind of energy we want to have in the future.”

McLeod also took a jab at Benson who had issued press releases and posted claims on social media that the campaign had hired “men with felony convictions for kidnapping, domestic violence, aggravated vehicular homicide, burglary, forgery and more” and had these circulators on street corners, in front of public libraries and other places where “violent felons” should not be hanging out.

Despite all that publicity, it turns out that even after the review of petitions by the utility-financed campaign, it was able to identify just 168 signatures on sheets circulated by what the lawsuit claims were 85 felons, or fewer than two signatures gathered per alleged felon.

“The people making this claim have no credibility whatsoever,” McLeod said.

One issue that could ultimately affect whether the initiative gets on the ballot is what Arizona courts rule is the proper standard for determining if they comply with the law.

Until last year courts have interpreted the Arizona Constitution to allow voter-proposed laws and constitutional amendments to proceed if there is “substantial compliance” with the statutes. But the Republican-controlled Legislature, at the behest of business interests, enacted a provision requiring “strict compliance.”

That could prove crucial as some of the errors cited by the utility and its lawyers involve things like the date that the initiative effort, financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, first hired paid circulators and whether that was too early. There also is a claim of “inconsistent circulator signatures” and petition sheets which had an “incorrect, incomplete, or misplaced serial number.”

In a separate lawsuit, a trial judge threw out a challenge to the strict compliance standard, ruling the plaintiffs in that case did not have standing because they did not have an actual ballot measure whose future was threatened by the new law. This case could provide that legal standing.

On paper, the lawsuit is not being brought in the name of either Pinnacle West nor APS. Instead, the plaintiffs include several supporters of the utility, including Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, and Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, who tried on behalf of the utility earlier this year to put a competing measure on the November ballot.

Also listed as plaintiffs are Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels, Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck and Mesa Mayor John Giles.

Kiley has scheduled a hearing on the issue for this coming week.

Utility writes its own renewable energy ballot measure


Afraid that voters might like a renewable energy mandate, the state’s largest utility is working with lawmakers to put its own alternative on the November ballot.

On paper, what’s going to the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday has the same goal as the initiative of having 50 percent of what’s generated in Arizona produced by renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2030. That compares with the current mandate of the Arizona Corporation Commission for 15 percent renewable by 2025.

But the measure crafted by Arizona Public Service Co. would provide an escape clause.

It prohibits the commission from implementing the new requirement if it would have any effect at all — no matter how small — on “the affordability or cost” of bills paid by customers.

HCR 2017 also spells out that the higher renewable goals could not be put into effect if it would affect the reliability of the electric grid and the delivery of electric services.

And then there’s a catch-all: The commission would have to jettison the entire mandate if it would affect “the well-being of this state.”

The move is the second front opened by APS and other utilities in the bid to undermine the initiative launched by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, a group being financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

Last week the Legislature approved — and Gov. Doug Ducey signed — a measure designed to effectively allow utilities to ignore the initiative if voters agree to approve it.

In essence, it does not overrule what the initiative would put into the Arizona Constitution. Instead it would spell out that the penalty could be no more than $5,000 and as little as $100.

The new proposal is being sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

“Right now the voters have a take-it-or-leave-it vote regarding this out-of-state billionaire’s attempt to impose what many people believe will be a financially ruinous renewable energy mandate which, in addition to wreaking havoc on the economy and household budgets will potentially make the grid less stable,” he said. Kavanagh said that’s because many of these renewables are not reliable in the same way as “base load” plants like coal and nuclear which can generate the same amount of power no matter the sunshine or wind.

He said the measure would allow utility regulators to “back off a bit” if there are negative economic or reliability implications.

Kavanagh said it’s irrelevant that APS drafted the language.

“Regardless of whom it came from I support it because the voters should have a little more flexibility,” he said, able to choose between the initiative with its hard-and-fast 50 percent goal or this one. He said initiative proponents are “attempting to ram something down the voters’ throat and not give them any midground which my bill provides.”

But Kavanagh deflected questions of whether voters — the same people who elect legislators — cannot make intelligent decisions. He said elected officials have a right to offer up their own alternative to the Steyer initiative.

“It’s giving the voters more of a voice,” Kavanagh said. “And who could oppose that?”

Initiative organizers were unclear how to respond to the APS-crafted alternative. Spokeswoman Pita Juarez said it could actually be seen as a positive.

“Less than two months after we launched our movement for a clean, healthy Arizona, it’s clear that even APS has recognized that Arizona voters want to take advantage of our endless supply of free solar energy and build towards a clean energy future,” she said in a prepared statement. But Juarez had no answer to questions about the escape clause that would require regulators to ignore the requirements.

“We are carefully reviewing the specifics of the initiative to determine our next steps,” she said.

We need a statewide renewable energy plan

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

Arizona’s economy is booming. Even with the Covid economic downturn, Arizona’s economy is making steady gains. 

recent study by University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management found that Arizona’s recovery from the pandemic gained significant momentum in the second quarter of 2021, with jobs, home sales, and construction showing strong upward trajectories. The positive outlook predicts Arizona jobs to regain pre-pandemic peak in the fourth quarter of this year, and the long-run outlook calls for continued strong growth with Arizona forecasted to generate job, income, and population gains outpacing the rest of the nation.  

Doran Arik Miller

Over the next 30 years, Arizona’s population is expected to surge to 10 million people, and the state is expected to add at least 1.5 million jobs in that time.  

As we experience this tremendous population and economic growth, we need to make sure we have sufficient energy to power our economy. That said, we all recognize that there are environmental impacts to traditional methods of energy generation. Innovation in renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal, as well as other clean sources such as hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture, and advanced energy storage, are demonstrating that there is a path to a low-carbon future, and that those methods of clean and renewable energy generation also help drive economic growth and create jobs. 

To put this in perspective, renewables represent a $64 billion market in the United States. In Arizona, we are witnessing the growth of this market. Our state is emerging as a national leader in technology and innovation, including developing and adopting advanced energy solutions for our advanced economy. From solar energy to zero emissions vehicles to research in sustainability and infrastructure improvements, Arizona’s economy is benefiting from this industry.  

Jaime Molera

Some of Arizona’s largest businesses, including Apple, PepsiCo, and Target, have applied positive pressure on Arizona utilities to provide them with clean and renewable energy options, and Arizona’s three largest utilities have now committed to generating most of their energy from carbon-free sources in the coming decades. 

Arizona has become a hub for the zero-emissions vehicle industry, with companies like Lucid Motors, Nikola Corporation, ElectraMeccanica and others within the supply chain establishing a strong and growing presence in the state. Nikola is also spearheading research and development in the future of the hydrogen economy. We have companies like First Solar taking an innovative and sustainable approach to solar power, and Kore Power is doing the same with battery storage.   

The clean energy and innovation sectors are already playing a significant role in driving Arizona’s economy. But if we want this trend not just to continue but to accelerate, we need a coordinated and strategic statewide approach that not only recognizes the role clean energy plays in economic development but also leverages the leadership and innovation of the private sector. That is going to require the right policy framework, incentives, and opportunities for public private partnerships, including updated and modernized energy rules from the Arizona Corporation Commission; incentives for greater adoption and deployment of energy efficiency measures and technologies; coordinated investment in statewide infrastructure projects for zero emission vehicles and other types of renewable energy infrastructure; and investment in research, development, and commercialization of new technologies. 

It is also imperative that Arizona has a comprehensive statewide plan for other impacts of the changing energy landscape. That means developing a coordinated approach on issues like electric vehicle infrastructure and energy storage to ensure that rural Arizona has a seat at the table and that new technologies can be rapidly adopted by consumers and utilities alike.     

Arizona is witnessing tremendous success in expanding our economy. While a competitive business climate with low taxes and limited regulatory intrusion has drawn businesses to our state, now is the time to examine how better coordination and leadership from our businesses and policymakers at all levels can lead to even greater success.    

Doran Arik Miller and Jaime Molera are the Arizona directors of The Western Way, a nonprofit organization that builds support for commonsense market-driven solutions to environmental challenges that support the economy and improve the environment.