In major reversal, Arizona utility regulators kill 100% clean-energy rules in the state

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Three Republican utility regulators have voted down a proposal for 100% carbon-free energy in Arizona after more than five years of work.
Three Republican utility regulators have voted down a proposal for 100% carbon-free energy in Arizona after more than five years of work.

Three Republican utility regulators have voted down a proposal for 100% carbon-free energy in Arizona that was considered, debated, workshopped and offered for public comment for more than five years.

The rules appeared on the verge of passage last year when Jim O'Connor, a Republican member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, and Anna Tovar, a Democratic member, reached a compromise.

But O'Connor backtracked Wednesday and voted against that deal, saying state rules were not necessary.

It was the second time a Republican commissioner changed their mind after giving the rules initial support. Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson initially voted for clean-energy rules in 2020, but opposed the same rules months later when they came up for final approval.

The new rules would have updated the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff that an all-Republican commission passed in 2006 and that requires utilities to get 15% of their power from renewables by 2025, as well as the 2010 energy-efficiency requirements for utilities to use efficiency measures to meet 22% of their energy demand by 2020.

"I have repeatedly asked myself if the proposed energy rules are necessary at this time," O'Connor said, adding that he supports clean energy.

"I have concluded the utilities are serious and sincere with their commitments to clean energy," he continued. "I see they face pressures, some helpful, some unhelpful, from a variety of sources, including from Wall Street and from the federal government. I have concluded they do not need these state-level energy rules at this time, which impose risks for ratepayers."

Tovar, who had hashed out the compromise with O'Connor, was audibly frustrated after his vote.

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“We as commissioners should be ashamed that all of this painstaking effort was in vain because we let politics get in the way of what was right,” Tovar said, scolding her fellow commissioners for their changed votes on the rules.

Olson, who has opposed the rules consistently, voted no, as did Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson, both citing cost concerns.

Olson defended his fellow Republicans' switched votes, saying that they changed their votes after they had additional information that the rules would increase utility prices.

"We should not be adopting policies that drive up these rates," Olson said.

Democrat Sandra Kennedy voted yes on the rules and challenged Olson's comments on cost.

"I don’t anticipate the price of sunshine, wind or geothermal heat from the Earth's core changing anytime soon," she said.

Márquez Peterson said that voluntary commitments from utilities have opened a "new chapter in the transition to clean energy," before voting against the rules, which failed 3-2.

Long history for energy requirements

Several Republican and Democrat members of the Corporation Commission, past and present, have worked to increase the requirements over the years, and Wednesday's vote comes almost six years after those efforts began in earnest.

A variety of environmental and clean-energy groups, not to mention businesses with clean-energy goals of their own that want to operate in Arizona, had supported the rules.

Many of those groups lamented Wednesday's vote.

"Today is a sad day for Arizona," said Ellen Zuckerman, utility program co-director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. "The Commission failed to advance key consumer protections to eliminate energy waste and make everyone's electricity bills more affordable. After years of hard work and careful study, billions in potential cost savings and thousands of local jobs are now in jeopardy. We urge the Commission to immediately revisit its decision today."

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Corporation Commission votes down carbon-free energy rules 3-2

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