ACC needs to support clean energy, not coal companies
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is set to make a decision on Nov. 13 on the controversial practice of net-metering, which allows solar customers to sell their excess power back to the utilities companies and exists in 43 states. The decision, which will be handed down by this five person elected commission that most people have probably never heard of, has the potential to be devastating to the future of sustainable energy in the state.
The ACC is a constitutionally mandated organization that is responsible for governing Arizona’s power utilities. The broad powers outlined by our state’s constitution mean that the ACC operates outside of the confines of legislative oversight.
This could spell disaster for proponents of solar power in Arizona, as four of the five ACC board members have strong ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that works in the interest of oil and gas companies that receives a large amount of its funding from the Koch brothers.
This year alone, ALEC has sought to weaken or repeal clean energy standards in 13 states.
In 2006, a more moderate ACC approved the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST). The proposal mandates that 15 percent of Arizona’s energy must be produced by renewable resources by 2025. The proposal helped spur Arizona’s rapid expansion of solar energy.
However, the ACC began bastardizing its REST standards last year when the three Republican commissioners overruled the two Democrats to allow the construction of a trash-to-gas power plant. The plant will be run by a company that is co-owned by the brother of a former Republican state legislator who testified in favor of the project in front of the ACC. In addition to the environmental impact (trash-to-gas plants were explicitly excluded in the initial REST proposal as being too polluting) proponents of the plant have resorted to outright lying.
Mohave Electric CEO Tyler Carlson argued that the trash plant could save money by offsetting the utility company’s solar expenditures. Then Democratic Commissioner Paul Newman, using data provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, saw that the facts told a different story. “The trash-burner costs almost twice as much to build and twenty times more to run,” he said.
Now the debate is centered around net-metering, and the current trend isn’t promising. The utilities companies claim that subsidizing solar costs places an unfair burden on non-solar customers to maintain the power grid.
However, a 2011 poll revealed that over 90 percent of Arizonans were willing to spend more to, “increase the amount of our energy needs which are met by renewable sources like wind and solar power.”
The utilities companies propose a credit that would increase solar customers’ bills by anywhere from $50 to $100 a month. The solar industry fears that this would disincentivize people from adopting solar and kill the burgeoning industry.
The Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), Arizona’s largest utility company, was recently revealed to have donated money to the Koch backed 60 Plus Association. The conservative group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against the solar industry.
APS vice president of communications John Hatfield rejected the notion that ratepayer money has been spent on the political campaign. Instead the money comes from profits that would have otherwise gone to stockholders. He also said that the donations made to the 60 Plus Association were for an unrelated purpose and that APS does not agree with all of the organization’s platforms.
“We needed to respond to these ridiculous assertions that we do not support solar.”
Call me skeptical, but that’s a load of crap. The amount of money being thrown around in Arizona right now is because this decision will shape the solar debate for the rest of the nation.
Unfortunately, when you follow the money trail, what you find is political cronyism and the gas and oil lobby working to delay the inevitable adoption of renewable energy sources. If the ACC sides with the utility companies in this debate the Arizona solar industry, which has the ability to be the strongest in the nation, will crumble.
Max Weintraub is a senior studying creative writing and Italian studies. Follow him @mweintra13.