April 2, 2018 Read More →

Arizona Utilities Turn to Ballot Box in Pushback Against Solar Industry

InsideClimate News:

Voters in Arizona are in for a messy battle over renewable energy this fall, as climate advocates and Republican lawmakers advance two competing ballot initiatives that are nearly identical. Both propose the same clean energy target using almost the same words, but only one requires that the target actually be met.

Over the past two weeks, the state legislature has made two last-minute attempts to challenge a pending ballot measure supported by environmentalist and billionaire Tom Steyer that would require Arizona utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030.

The lawmakers first set penalties that are so low, they would have little impact on utilities failing to meet the renewable energy target. Then, at the urging of the state’s largest electric utility, they created the copycat ballot proposal—with an added provision that would make it easy for state officials to abandon that 2030 target altogether.

Lurking behind all of this is a wonkier debate playing out at the state’s utility commission, which has long been seen as an ally of the electric power industry it regulates, but that surprised a lot of people this month when it nudged the state’s utilities to adopt more renewable energy.

Taken together, the developments could bring a divisive debate to the fore in Arizona as November approaches. Clean energy advocates are asking for more renewable power, but the state’s utilities are fighting back through their allies in elected office.

“What the legislature is doing right now is to limit the people’s ability to hold these big monopoly utilities accountable,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter. “It’s really a new low in our state’s political climate.”

Arizona is one of the top states for solar power—ranked second for utility-scale solar and third for rooftop—and prices have been dropping fast. Last year, Tucson Electric Power announced it had signed a long-term agreement to purchase power from a solar-plus-storage facility at a price low enough to be competitive with natural gas.

But the sun still provided only 5 percent of Arizona’s power in 2016, with renewables as a whole making up 12 percent. Climate activists and solar companies have been pushing for years to boost that figure, but they have met fierce resistance from utilities. Chief among those is Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest electricity provider, whose parent company, Pinnacle West Capital, has spent millions of dollars to support political candidates, including Gov. Doug Ducey and members of the utility commission.

More: A Renewable Energy Battle is Brewing in Arizona, with Confusion as a Weapon

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