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Arizona 100% carbon-free rules fail after last minute changes

Posted at 9:40 PM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 00:40:59-04

Clean energy rules that would have required Arizona electric utilities to use 100% carbon-free power sources by the year 2050 failed in a 3-2 vote, Wednesday night.

The Arizona Corporation Commissioner, a five-member panel that regulates investor-owned utilities, came to the decision after significant amendments to the rules package were passed by the three Republican members.

One amendment, introduced by Commissioner Justin Olson, who has consistently opposed the rules, required that they be goals rather than required standards.

"If we enacted a rule, all we're doing is guaranteeing that the ratepayers are going to have to pay the cost of the utilities complying with that rule. And so it just doesn't make sense to me," he told ABC15.

The Olson amendment passed with votes from fellow Republicans, Commissioner Jim O'Connor, and Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson.

"I know there is nothing more important in the rules than these provisions. they achieve the objectives without setting any mandates or subsidies," Marquez Peterson said during the meeting. "They don't pick winners or losers and they allow the free market and innovation to drive us to the future.

Commissioners Sandra Kennedy and Anna Tovar, both Democrats who had been champions of the proposed clean energy rules, pulled their support in protest.

"There is no way that I can vote for what would be very much a watered-down, stripped-down version of what took three and a half years to come to a compromise," Tovar told ABC15.

Wednesday's vote was the culmination of more than three years of negotiations, workshops and hearings involving hundreds of stakeholders. The proposed rules enjoyed wide-spread support from utilities, businesses, and consumer and environmental advocates.

Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director, Sandy Bahr released a statement saying in part, "Notable is the lack of leadership by Chairwoman Márquez-Peterson, who had the opportunity to lead the Commission in adopting strong clean energy rules, but instead did an about face on limiting carbon emissions and came away with absolutely nothing -- nothing to protect our health, conserve water, and give us cleaner air; nothing to help provide additional jobs and reduce carbon emissions."

In November 2020 the policies were approved 4-1 to begin a formal rulemaking process, with bipartisan support from a Commission with a different makeup.

Former Chair Robert Burns, Former Commissioner Boyd Dunn, both Republicans, and Kennedy were proponents of the rules. Olson voted against them.

To get Marquez Peterson on board at that time, Burns removed the renewable energy standard which would have specified the type of clean energy sources utilities could use.

On Thursday she told ABC15 her vote in 2020 was to move the rules forward in the process and that she needed further information about how clean energy implementation would affect rates but had a 120-day deadline from the initial passage in November to have a vote.

"How can we make any decision in good conscience, we don't know the financial impact on the families and the ratepayers in achieving this goal," Marquez Peterson told ABC15.

She expects to get that data from a cost analysis to ratepayers in the late summer and said some portions of the rules could be reintroduced for consideration.

Tovar had a different perspective.

"The solution would have been easy: if you're going to be moving such big amendments and changing things dramatically, know what you're doing before you do it," Tovar said.