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Washington Examiner: Bloomberg spends big to tip Arizona utility commission to Democrats

Posted by Abby Smith on Oct 30, 2020

The Washington Examiner covered Arizona's public utility commission race, quoting AEE's JR Tolbert. Read excerpts below and the full piece here.

Clean energy groups are spending millions to elect Democrats to flip control of Arizona’s utility commission in hopes of speeding up the state’s adoption of renewable energy... This cycle, three seats are up for grabs on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees electric and other utilities in the state, as well as pipeline and railroad systems...

If [billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg and environmentalists are successful, it could mark the first time Democrats have held majority control of the commission since the 1990s. Arizona is one of just 11 states where utility commissioners are elected rather than appointed...

The three Democratic candidates — former Commissioner Bill Mundell, Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, and former teacher Shea Stanfield — are running as the so-called “Solar Team,” with promises to strengthen Arizona’s commitment to renewable energy, battery storage, and distributed energy resources...

Two of the Republican candidates, former public relations executive Eric Sloan and retired businessman Jim O’Connor, have raised concerns about increasing renewable energy mandates in the state, saying it would cost people money and risk electric reliability...

Nonetheless, momentum in Arizona is already on the side of clean energy.

Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electricity provider, set a goal in January to achieve carbon-free power by 2050. By 2030, the utility is aiming to have 45% of its generation coming from renewable power...

Late Thursday, in a split 3-2 vote, the current Arizona Corporation Commission voted to approve a clean energy standard, targeting 50% renewables by 2035 and 100% carbon-free power by 2050, the Arizona Republic reported. Burns and Kennedy voted yes, joined by Republican Commissioner Boyd Dunn. Marquez Peterson and Olson voted no.

Whoever is elected to the commission next Tuesday will play a significant role in implementing that standard, which also requires utilities to slash their carbon emissions by 50% by 2032 and by 75% by 2040. Democratic candidates could also advocate for further strengthening the clean energy requirements.

“The question seems to be how you get there and on the timeline in which you get there,” said J.R. Tolbert, managing director at Advanced Energy Economy. “But those are huge stakes, frankly. Those are big stakes, both for the industry, as well as for the electric grid and getting to 100%...”

There are several opportunities for the Arizona Corporation Commission to support clean energy development outside of standard-setting, too, Tolbert said. That includes by ensuring competition among clean energy sources as APS chooses how to meet its goal, bolstering energy efficiency use among utilities, and working with power companies to support electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The commission also doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting on building support for 100% clean energy now that the state’s largest utility has set its own standard to achieve it.

Topics: AEE In The News