Sun, Jan. 19

Democrats make case for balance of power on Corporation Commission

PHOENIX -- The three Democrats running for the Arizona Corporation Commission said voters need to choose at least one of them to protect the push for more renewable energy.

Jorge Garcia pointed out the commission now is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats. And the two seats up for grabs belong to Republicans.

He said a third Democrat -- and perhaps a fourth -- is needed to keep the commission from back-sliding on its mandate that utilities must obtain 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. That includes solar, geothermal, wind and similar sources.

Former commissioner Renz Jennings, looking to get his job back, said the requirement, known as the "renewable energy standard,' said it is in danger of disappearing.

He credits Kris Mayes, who chairs the commission, with keeping the pressure on her colleagues of both parties to maintain the mandate. But Mayes, a Republican, cannot seek a third four-year term.

Jennings said Gary Pierce and Bob Stump, the other two Republicans on the panel, have been "squishy' on the issue of renewable energy.

And David Bradley said Republicans -- at least those in the Legislature -- have made it a political issue.

He pointed to a measure crafted earlier this year by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, which would have stripped the commission of its power to require the use of renewable energy. Instead, it would have replaced it with a legislative standard.

But that standard was full of loopholes, allowing utilities to meet that 15 percent standard with not just power from hydroelectric dams but also nuclear power.

The legislation, which cleared the House Government Committee, was stopped after business groups that it would undermine Arizona's efforts to attract new solar firms.

All three Democrats said they support another provision in that renewable energy standard which allows utilities to impose a surcharge on the bills of customers to pay for the higher costs of obtaining power from alternative sources.

Less clear is when, if ever, that surcharge of several dollars a month for residential customers, depending on the utility, would go away.

Jennings said that while energy from new solar plants is more expensive than power from the existing Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, it is cheaper per kilowatt hour than what it would cost to build a new nuclear plant. He said the surcharge should just be seen as a cost of providing reliable power, just the same as utility customers were charged up front for some of the costs of Palo Verde.

"I'm for continuing the surcharge for as long as it takes,' Bradley said. He said customers can minimize the effect of the surcharge "by paying more attention to your bill, paying more attention to what you're doing in your own home.'

Garcia agreed with Jennings that the surcharge is simply "part of the bill' for power.

All three took slaps at Barry Wong, one of the Republicans running for the commission, who said utilities should deny services to those who cannot prove they are in this country legally.

"That's nuts,' Bradley said. "It's using a flamethrower when a candle will do.'

He said the move actually could raise rates for everyone else, as the utilities will still have their fixed costs but simply be selling less power and having fewer customers to share in the burden.

"What will be next, sewer?' Garcia chimed in.

Jennings called it "a pretty cheap political trick.'

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