The Arizona Republic recommends a “no” vote on the Clean Energy For A Healthy Arizona initiative, Prop. 127. Prop. 127, Arizona’s renewable energy initiative, comes down to just 4 words:
We enjoy such abundant natural light that we seem destined to throw a harness around the sun and use it to pull the greater share of our state economy.
But that day is not here. Not yet.
For now we are moving in the direction of the sun with new knowledge and new technology.
Crusaders for clean power have put on this year’s ballot a proposal to massively accelerate Arizona’s ascension to virtually 100-percent clean energy. But there are reasons to doubt it.
Because there is an entrenched carbon monopoly and special interest “dark money” from APS, its parent company Pinnacle West, and the “Kochtopus” organizations which have bought GOP candidates and captured the Arizona Corporation Commission.
What would Proposition 127 do?
Utilities are now under Arizona Corporation Commission mandate to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Proposition 127 would bump up those requirements to 50 percent by 2030, an increase the utilities say would greatly increase costs that would then be passed on to ratepayers.
Note: California law already requires at least 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030. California took a giant step this past May, by becoming the first state to require all new homes to be fitted for solar power. California Will Require Solar Power for New Homes. The Clean Energy For A Healthy Arizona initiative is not nearly as ambitious.
Opponents, led by APS, contends the proposal’s economics would force the closure of Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, which produces power for about 4 million people.
It is unlikely the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station will close. But the Death of the Navajo Generating Station sale means the biggest coal plant in the West and the mine that feeds it will close in December 2019, if not earlier. The four utility owners — Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power and NV Energy — voted in February 2017 to close the plant in favor of cheaper power from natural-gas plants. Solar energy did not kill it.
Proponents argue that’s nonsense, a scare tactic used by utilities to avoid renewable targets they will never meet on their own.
The battle of wills has resulted in the most expensive campaign in state history, with both sides spending a combined $40 million-plus to try to win.
Prop. 127’s goals are admirable
Who says no to clean energy? We all want to live in a state powered by renewable sources. It’s better for the environment, better for our health and, ultimately, may prove better for our pocket books.
Arizona is second only to Nevada among states for solar energy potential, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Sun Index. [At the end of 2017, California was by far the nation’s leader in installed solar capacity. Solar power provides almost 16 percent of the state’s electricity.In fact, the state itself generates so much solar and wind power that it must sometimes halt production at some facilities or give the electricity away to other states to avoid overloading the electric grid.] When she was governor, Janet Napolitano saw this potential and said, “There is no reason that Arizona should not be the Persian Gulf of solar energy.”
But as progress rolls on and renewable energy grows cheaper and more feasible, it is still not so cheap that market forces can take over and price signals persuade everyone to convert.
It’s an expensive proposition to retool regulated utilities to convert half of their power generation to renewables. And they won’t be pushed into it without a fight.
But you can’t predict the future
Each side comes to this debate with soothsayers – their economists bearing long-term projections.
Supporters of Prop. 127 trumpet studies that say its passage will shrink electricity bills in Arizona by $4.1 billion between 2020 and 2040, while it grows jobs in this state by 15,810 by 2030.
Opponent studies say just the opposite: Rates will increase $1,900 a year and some 304,855 “job years” will vanish through the year 2060.
The Constitution is a sticking point
Besides the higher targets, what sets Prop. 127 apart from the Corporation Commission’s 2006 Renewable Energy Standard is that the ballot measure cements the mandates into the Arizona Constitution.
Kris Mayes, the former Arizona utility regulator behind the 2006 standards, said a constitutional amendment is necessary because APS is spending so much campaign money to shape the make-up of the Corporation Commission.
Further, APS is not going to do this on their own, she said. When speaking to The Arizona Republic editorial board, Mayes waved the APS resource plan that the utility submitted last year to regulators and pointed out that it includes no new growth in solar.
But the problem with a constitutional amendment is that it locks in the mandates so that regulators can’t adjust them in the face of shifting realities. If, in fact, the worse case scenario happens and the new mandates greatly inflate electric bills and begin to kill jobs, the Corporation Commission could not react.
It would require time and money and another ballot initiative to make the necessary adjustments.
I agree. Energy policy, like tax policy under Prop. 126, should not be enacted through constitutional amendments. This is not the proper role of constitutional provisions. But Arizona’s constitution is already littered with bad policies enacted as constitutional amendments, and may add some more this November. This academic argument is no longer persuasive. If it later requires a corrective ballot measure, it would not be the first time this has occured.
There’s another way to do this
Proposition 127 is in its way a fatalistic view of the electoral system: That it is not possible anymore to vote in commissioners who think and behave independently, free of utility influence. Its proponents lost faith that the commission could repeat what it did in 2006 and pass renewable standards. Thus they went to the initiative process.
However, the most recent election history should tell them it is possible to change the commission, even in the face of powerful APS influence. In the Republican primary, Tom Forese, perhaps the most predictable vote for utility interests, was soundly defeated by candidates who ran on promises to restore integrity to the commission.
In 2018, the commission’s composition could change enough to begin anew the pursuit of enhanced renewable standards. [Only if voters elect Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears.]
Bottom line: Right idea, wrong tool
While we admire the objectives of the proponents and believe they are based on good faith, and while we share their cynicism for a public utility that turned heavy handed in elections and undermined the integrity of the Corporation Commission, we believe they are using the wrong tool – a constitutional amendment – to demand progress.
Energy production is a vital industry in this state. It is the lynchpin of our economy. To lock that industry into mandates whose long-term impacts cannot possibly be predicted today whose parameters cannot be adjusted [it always can] and redirect with emerging realities is simply too risky for Arizona.
The best way forward, for now, is saying no to Prop. 127.
As I indicated above, from a purely academic standpoint I would agree. But the GOP culture of corruption in Arizona runs so deep and has existed for so long, particularly at the captured agency Arizona Corporation Commission, that a disruptive citizens initiative may be the best means available to break the back of the corrupt beast, and for citizens to regain some control over the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The other means available is to stop electing Republicans who are all beholden to APS, Pinnacle West and the “Kochtopus,” regardless of their protestations of independence to the contrary. The evidence does not support this. Arizonans have to elect Democrats to the Arizona Corporation Commission to begin to blunt the GOP culture of corruption in Arizona.