Motion to recuse Commissioners from APS case

Posted at 11:50 AM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 14:50:15-04

Two former Arizona Corporation Commissioners have filed a motion with the Commission, seeking to disqualify Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little from the decision-making process in Arizona Public Service’s solar net metering case, accusing them of being biased because they allegedly benefitted from “massive donations” from Arizona Public Service (APS) during their 2014 campaigns. 

Bill Mundell and Renz Jennings, a Republican and a Democrat respectively, filed the motion with the ACC on Thursday, along with solar company SunRun, Inc.

SunRun also filed a separate motion to recuse Commissioner Bob Stump, as well, citing allegations that he “repeatedly indicated pre-judgment of issues before him involving rooftop solar,” according to a press release.

The motion against Forese and Little, filed by attorney and former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, accuses them of benefitting from millions in dark money spent in the 2014 election.

Dark money groups spent about $3.2 million in ads for Little and Forese and in attack ads against their opponents. It’s widely believed that the money was supplied by APS or its parent company, Pinnacle West. 

APS has not responded to claims that it was behind the campaign donations to the two candidates, but has defended its right to be involved in the political process.

Barbara Lockwood, General Manager of Regulator Affairs and Compliance for APS, said in a statement that this is part of a larger tactic by some rooftop solar companies to delay Commission actions so rooftop solar companies can continue making profits now.

"This latest ploy by SolarCity and Sunrun doesn’t surprise us at all – it is more of the same to try to divert attention from serious policy discussion and decisions about issues critical to the energy future of Arizona," she said in the statement. "It’s not just happening in Arizona, it’s the “playbook” these companies are deploying across the country, from Florida to Wisconsin to Nevada.”  

Last month, the ACC allowed APS to continue with their net metering case, after the company requested to raise fees on rooftop solar customers. 

Solar interests came out in force to object to the request, calling it an unfair attack on the solar industry.

The ACC is an elected five-member commission that regulates water, gas, power and other companies that hold monopolies in the state, including APS.

On a conference call about the motion Thursday, former Commissioners Jennings and Mundell said they were concerned about the dignity and integrity of the Commission.

They said public perception is clear that APS was behind the dark money in the 2014 election, and that the public has a right to know if the decision-makers on the ACC are “fair-minded and unbiased.”

“There’s something quite distressing about the idea of a utility picking its own regulators,” Jennings said.

The two former Commissioners also said they are concerned about disclosure.

Hallman said the former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Thomas Zlacket issued an opinion that the Arizona Constitution clearly permits the ACC to force APS to disclose its political spending. 

A spokesperson for the ACC said because this is a pending matter before the Commission, it would not be appropriate for them to comment at this time.

Forese’s office didn’t immediately return calls and Little’s office said he was not commenting at this time.

This is the latest in a series of issues that have embroiled the ACC in controversy.

Commissioner Bob Stump is under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General because of accusations that he exchanged text messages with APS executives during the 2014 campaign.

And, earlier this month, another attorney filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office calling for Commissioner Susan Bitter Smith to be removed from office because of conflicts of interest.