Arizona regulators rebuff utilities, order turn from gas to renewables

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Arizona has a complex relationship with solar, replete with the drama of recent settlements dodging the Supreme Court and even FBI investigations  of state regulators. The state has some of the best sunlight on the planet, however even in a time of record low solar power bids, utilities have put forth plans with virtually no new utility-scale solar.

This week the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted 3-2 not to acknowledge the 15-year plans by electric utilities Arizona Public Service (APS), Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and Unisource Energy Services (UNSE). In its historic ruling, the body also put a 9-month halt to natural gas development via a 4-1 vote – with Chairman Tom Forese being the lone dissenter.

The ACC has instead suggested that utility plans emulate Commissioner Tobin’s ‘Energy Modernization Plan’, calling for 80% clean energy by 2050. Tobin’s plan called for, among many other things, 3 GW of energy storage, instead of gas peaking plants.

In a report high lighted by Western Resource Advocates and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, if just one electricity utility – APS – were to install renewable energy sources, backed with energy storage and efficiency, instead of the planned 4,000-5,500 MW of gas – customers would save roughly $300 million.

Additionally, with the pending closure of the largest coal plant in the Western United States, the Navajo Generating Station, and the pending loss of the 750 jobs that come with the plant, there is an urgent need to revamp the state’s energy landscape.

“It’s encouraging to see the ACC hearing our concerns that APS should be planning for utilizing solar power generated in our Navajo communities,” said Tony Skrelunas, Vice President of DinéHózhó, a Navajo sustainable business enterprise.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) has been asking for solar bids recently.

This vote was forshadowed by prior meeting complexities. A recent meeting had Commission Bob Burns saying:

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. It’s time this commission showed a willingness to do that.

Burns was called out for ‘straying’ and responded saying ‘maybe we need to stray.’ Burns then called out Commission Tobin’s complex history of voting with the utilities – who have strongly opposed policies favorable to customer-sited solar.

All of this occured in a meeting where strong words of support were voiced for Tobin’s 80% plan. Arizona has a complex history with renewable energy and solar power – but the long arc of history is turning.