With new Corporation Commission, solar, renewable energy rules at risk

Posted at 6:42 PM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 01:20:14-05

PHOENIX — The new Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is set to add Democrat Anna Tovar, Republican Jim O'Connor and retain incumbent Republican Lea Marquez Peterson.

They will join Republican Justin Olson and Democrat Sandra Kennedy giving the GOP a 3-2 advantage.

The Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, pipelines, railroads, and securities, is currently comprised of 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat.

Despite the super majority the commission has recently been split with Republicans Chairman Bob Burns and Boyd Dunn voting with Kennedy to update state's energy rules mandating that utilities sell 100% carbon emission-free power by 2050.

"I think that's pretty exciting considering it wasn't too long ago that it seemed like the Commission was more focused on keeping these dirty old coal plants puffing away," said Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Executive Director.

But Commissioners Burns and Dunn are leaving at the end of the year.

"I think the election outcome does mean that part of the energy rules package is in question," she said.

Marquez Peterson and Olson's opposition to renewable energy standard coupled with the 2021 addition of O'Connor who has said he also opposes them, concern advocacy groups that the use of solar will not increase as they had hoped. Because rules package includes a mandate that the emissions reduction targets be obtained by use of 50% renewable energy--like solar--by 2035.

Bahr foresees another complication for the future of rooftop solar as well. While she says utilities are quickly moving to implement more solar into their energy mix because it is becoming less expensive, solar systems are still out of reach for many consumers. The three Democratic candidates Tovar, Bill Mundell, and Shea Stanfield all ran with expanding residential rooftop solar as part of their platform. With only Tovar prevailing, Bahr suspects that will be hard to do.

"We'd like to see the commission support is making solar more accessible to more people have varied, varied backgrounds. And unfortunately, we've seen utilities erect roadblocks to more rooftop solar and making it more affordable," she said. "That's one of the places where we'll continue to have to really, really push."

Solar mandates aside, based on Marquez Peterson's past support of clean energy in general, Bahr is optimistic that there will be enough votes to get at least some the current rules formally passed.

"We right now have a commission that's talking about that. I'm hoping that will continue into next year. And that that will be finalized," she said.

The current Commission is set for a final vote on November 13. A formal rulemaking process will begin in 2021 when the new Commission can decide to accept, reject, or alter the rules.