Arizona debates breathtaking clean energy plan at open meeting

Near the end of January, Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) member Andy Tobin unveiled what would be a groundbreaking, long-term clean energy plan for the state, involving an 80% by 2050 clean energy goal, a 3 GW energy storage target and plans for electric vehicles by 2050.

The plan, called Arizona’s Energy Modernization Plan, received its first public hearing on Tuesday, and most of the hour-long discussion, including initial public comments, were positive.

Concerns over the possible inclusion of nuclear plants and natural gas pipelines were expressed, however, since “clean” energy was only vaguely defined under Tobin’s initial proposal.

Members of the public also raised concerns over how rooftop solar will be treated. One resident expressed a desire to see a specific carve-out for rooftop solar, a segment of the solar industry that some say has been significantly affected since the ACC decided to change net metering rules significantly in December 2016.

Listening closely to the debate, the general sense was support for the plan, pending more details. But the meeting was not without fireworks, however.

Commissioner Bob Burns used his comments to take subtle shots at the ACC in general as being too utility friendly, suggesting that Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility, has spent significant money to shape the commission to their liking.

Burns said he wants to see the plan move forward but asked his colleagues to have the courage to make the hard decisions necessary, including standing up to APS.

“If we want to move forward with a serious and significant clean energy plan, we are going to have to make decisions that may run contrary to the interests of APS,” Burns said. “It’s time this commission showed a willingness to do that.”

When someone in the audience interrupted to suggest Burns was straying off the topic of the meeting, Burns bristled and said, “Maybe a little straying is what we need.”

He then specifically called out Tobin as leading the pro-APS faction on the commission, saying, “If you want to play that game, Commissioner Tobin himself has led the efforts to keep the ACC as a group that is supportive of APS’ position”

Tobin was absent from the room at his time.

“What all of us want – what Arizonans deserve – is a way forward to modernize our grid and bring it into the 21st century,” Burns said. “We need to stop talking about it and start doing it – so let’s get started.”

No vote on the modernization plan was taken, and it’s unclear what the next steps in the discussion of the plan will be.