Wed, Jan. 22

Democrats Sandra Kennedy, Paul Newman locked in on Arizona Corporation Commission

PHOENIX -- The election of at least two Democrats to the Arizona Corporation Commission is likely to mean a bigger push for utilities to generate more electricity from renewable sources.

Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman got enough votes to be guaranteed seats on the five-member panel. The margin of votes between Democrat Sam George and Republican Bob Stump left that third open slot too close to call.

Republicans Marian McClure and Barry Wong trailed in the bid for the three open seats, all occupied until now by Republicans not seeking re-election.

The three new commissioners will join Republicans Kris Mayes and Gary Pierce who were not up for election this time.

Kennedy, Newman and George ran as the "solar team,' promising to demand that more of the energy used in Arizona be generated from solar and similar sources.

Existing commission regulations -- adopted by the all-Republican panel -- require utilities to have 15 percent of their energy "portfolio' from renewable sources by 2025. Newman said that can be more aggressive, especially with utilities going to be seeking new generating capacity as the state's population increases.

"What would be realistic is we look at building 10 new solar farms,' he said. Newman said that will require a commission that will look toward ensuring there is capital to build such facilities.

He said Tucson Electric Power now generates 70 percent of its base power load comes from coal. "And they're not even near achieving even this fairly low renewable energy standard.'

"So what is feasible is driven by the Corporation Commission and by capitalization,' he said. "And it's driven by letting people know that we'll be the new home for solar energy in the Southwest.'

Mayes said a more aggressive schedule for requiring renewable energy is not out of the question.

"Four months ago I called for increasing our standard to 25 percent by 2025,' she said. "There are a lot of areas where we can work together in boosting the amount of solar energy we do in Arizona.'

Mayes said, however, the commission needs to be "careful and deliberate' in making any changes.

"I wouldn't want to run this train off the tracks,' she said.

"One of the reasons Arizona has been successful with renewable energy is we have been deliberate and we haven't done anything that would give ammunition to opponents of renewable energy.'

Newman said he believes the Democratic gains in Congress, coupled with the election of Barack Obama, will force the state to do more.

He expects a national "cap and trade' program to be imposed to control "greenhouse gases' like carbon dioxide. These gases are believed linked to global climate change.

Under such a system, utilities -- among the largest generators of greenhouse gases from their fossil-fueled power plants - would be given a schedule for reducing emissions. Those that could not meet the goals could purchase "credits' from companies that exceeded their goals.

Newman said that is likely to be linked to a national requirement that 20 percent of all electricity be generated from renewable sources.

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