It was a discussion that pit the forces of laissez-faire against the momentum of renewable energy.

It was an exchange that showed the voices of going backward with coal, nuclear, and fossil fuels against the sounds of moving forward with solar and energy efficiency.

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It was a debate where a Republican candidate made the obtuse comment that “we can’t command the sun to shine” and equated assistance to Tribal nations ravaged by coal plant closures and water shortages to “foreign aid.”

Those were some of the themes and low lights in the debate between the Democratic and Republican candidates for the two open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission, an entity many objective observers view as the fourth branch of government.

Please click below to watch the debate.

The four candidates vying for the two open positions on the Commission are:

  • Democrats Sandra Kennedy (currently a Corporation Commissioner) and former Tempe Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby.
  • Republicans Nick Meyers (an advisor to another Corporation Commissioner) and Mesa City Council member Kevin Thompson.

Republicans Show Their True Colors at the Debate.

From the outset, the Republicans made their Laissez Faire, anti-renewable energy, communities ravaged by departing coal plants can go to hell, case.

In his opening statement, Thompson said that Arizona should not become a state that adopts California/Green New Deal policies and proposed an all of the above model for Arizona’s energy portfolio.

Commissioner Kennedy rightly pointed out that the Grand Canyon state already had an all of the above energy portfolio.

Meyers claimed California overinvested in renewables and Arizona should not follow that example.

Both think mandates like the Renewable Energy Standards (formulated by now Attorney General Nominee Kris Mayes and Bill Mundell) and Obama/Biden directives that closed down coal plants were overreach and those utility companies should not be micromanaged. They should be allowed to go at their own pace to shift to carbon neutral when the appropriate-affordable technology presents itself.

In response to this Laissez Faire attitude, Commissioner Kennedy would comment that the “Corporation Commission should have some form of oversight when it comes to competition.”

Thompson said that “we can not afford to become carbon neutral by 2030.”

When Lauren Kuby continually pointed out the benefits of solar energy (like how much cheaper, cleaner, healthier, and less dependent on water usage) as fossil fuels or nuclear, Meyers made perhaps the most obtuse comment of the evening, stating, “the sun can not be commanded to shine,” claiming that “we do not have the storage and battery technology yet” to go totally solar.

Both men expressed opposition to energy efficiency incentives, claiming that those that did not participate in these programs would receive the added costs and individuals that wanted to conserve could do it on their own.

Finally, both men said that communities economically ravaged by coal plant closures (including the Navajo Nation and Republican-leaning areas like Joseph City and St. Johns) did not deserve what Meyers called “foreign aid” for rebuilding and that these local areas should have planned ahead. They suggested that these communities transition to micronuclear energy providers.

Commissioner Kennedy called Meyer’s arguments “preposterous” and said that shifting to micronuclear (which the jury is still out on and is more expensive than solar) made no sense because there was not enough water in these areas to sustain the energy source.

Kennedy and Kuby Shine with their Performances.

Both Commissioner Kennedy and former Vice Mayor Kuby used the mission of the Commission: to protect the consumers, to advance their forward agenda that relied on shifting the Grand Canyon state’s energy portfolio to cheaper-renewable sources like solar and wind.

Kuby pointed out that Corporation actions, which their opponents opposed like Renewable Energy standards from 16 years ago and energy efficiency standards have saved the state 23 billion gallons of water, stopped 14 power plants from being built (she later said imagine how worse the air quality would be had they been constructed) and saved the ratepayers two billion dollars.

Kennedy relayed that the CEOs of most Arizona large companies know the cheapest form of energy are the renewable ones and we need to bring back the renewable energy standard and make it better.

When asked why the renewable energy standard was needed, Kuby replied that because utility companies would do nothing otherwise, further stating “we have recent history to look at to see the success of the standard which was a national leader for a time.”

Both Democratic candidates also promoted energy efficiency with Kuby stating that “with energy efficiency comes water conservation.  Kennedy said, “there are no shifting costs when it comes to efficiency.”

Kuby also cited a study that “with every dollar you spend on energy efficiency, you get over $4.00 back.” She also said utility companies like energy efficiency because it saves them from having to impose blackouts

With regards to aiding communities destroyed by closed-down coal plants, both Kuby and Kennedy said these areas should be helped.

Kuby pointed out that the water aquifer under the Navajo nation which took a million years to accumulate was drained in 50 years thanks in part to the growth in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Crediting Kennedy for her leadership in this area, she said that we could not leave coal-dependent communities like St. Johns, Page, and Springerville behind, stating, “it is a moral stain on our state that we haven’t somehow given back and had a process in place so we can have a fair and just transition to a clean energy economy... It is also a moral stain that over 70 percent of the unelectrified houses in the United States are on the Navajo Nation.”

Kennedy offered: “I think the (departing coal) companies should give back to the communities in these areas: The streams are not flowing anymore. The water is gone. The coal plants have left behind their trash.”

Post Debate Statements from Kennedy and Kuby.

At the request of Blog for Arizona, both Commissioner Kennedy and Vice Mayor Kuby issued statements about the debate.

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy

Commissioner Kennedy wrote:

“Now that solar energy costs one-half to one-third of what coal or natural gas-fired electricity costs, and since the Arizona constitution charges the Commission with providing reliable and affordable electricity to consumers, solar is the only logical choice for energy generation in Arizona. It also signals a new and sustained economic boom as solar generation facilities are built to export less costly solar energy to other states, bringing endless prosperity and good jobs to Arizona.

The framers of the Arizona Constitution made it clear their intent to protect consumers against the power of corporations and their influence on the Governor and legislature by having an elected corporation commission. Anyone who runs to be a regulator on the platform of diminishing the regulator’s power, like our Republican opponents, is clearly running for the wrong reasons, and they are the perfect example of why the state constitution put the task of protecting consumers with an elected corporation commission. They are obviously just listening to corporate lobbyists and parroting their talking points that ignore reality and consumers’ interests. As a commissioner, I have always fought for the lowest rates for electricity, along with ensuring reliability. They obviously have no interest in that. They want to just have the Commission let utilities make all the decisions, and we know when utility-friendly commissioners have been elected previously, this just resulted in higher rates and record profits for utility corporations.

When looking at each rate case, the Commission takes sworn testimony and reviews exhibits, with cross-examination, along with a public comment in a quasi-judicial system, then the Commissioners set the utility rates and other conditions, using those facts and evidence. That approach, when followed, should prevent political and ideology-based decisions. But our Republican opponents already have their minds made up, and are promoting small nuclear reactors, despite asserting during the debate that the technology is still being tested and is about ten years from being market ready. It is illuminating that they were ready to fully implement it without even knowing that new nuclear is the most expensive form of new electricity, which has been an established fact at the Commission for years. Their parroted positions are exactly the talking points of corporate lobbyists, which figures because they both were previously lobbyists for utilities. Mr. Thompson is also on a natural gas advocacy committee based in Washington, DC, which is a built-in conflict of interest. It is noteworthy that neither of our opponents ever even uttered the word “solar” during the hour-long debate, despite its overwhelming popularity among Arizona consumers. Only a transition to clean solar energy from fossil fuel generation can lower and actually stabilize utility rates, with the enormous benefit of cleaning up our air and saving large amounts of precious water.

Our Republican opponents also blamed communities affected by coal plant closures for their new economic peril, even calling assistance to them “foreign aid,” yet skipped over the fact that solar power could be immediately co-located at these sites, solving the problems and providing an even better economy in the state. I want to solve the problem and do what the best for everyone. When I am re-elected, I will continue my vigilance and consumer advocacy.”

From Lauren Kuby website

Vice Mayor Kuby offered:

“The contrast between our Republican opponents and Team Kuby & Kennedy is clear. These extreme Republicans
– oppose any renewable energy standards (which advance the clean energy transition in Arizona, save billions of gallons of water and billions of dollars for consumers.)
-refuse to support the Just and Equitable Transition for the Navajo and Hopi nations and communities in Northeastern Arizona. They referred to investment in communities faced with necessary coal plant clusters as “bailouts” and said that the Nation should seek “foreign aid” from the Federal government.  It is despicable to refer to our tribal lands as foreign.
– propose to replace coal plants on the reservation with nuclear power showing ignorance about the impact of uranium mining in these communities.
–  are tied to extremist “America First” ideologies and one was a utility lobbyist for years. How can we expect them to represent the public interest when ideology and conspiracy theories drive their decision-making? We need corporate watchdogs, not utility lapdogs.
– are content to be an importer of dirty fossil-fuel energy and not an exporter of solar energy
Commissioner Sandra Kennedy and I presented a clear vision for a clean-energy and drought-resilient future in Arizona. Arizona is at the frontline of the climate crisis. Yet we are also the sunniest state in the nation. With historic federal investment in clean energy infrastructure and programs that lower our utility bills, Arizona is poised to become the Solar Capital of the US and lead the way toward decarbonizing our state.”

Voters in Arizona have 50 days to decide if they want the Corporation Commission to be a consumer protection agency or, as Vice Mayor Kuby said, a utility company lapdog.

If the people want clean air and water, please vote for the candidates that will look out for the consumers. That would be Sandra Kennedy and Lauren Kuby.

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