There is never a dull moment in Arizona politics. As reported by the Arizona Republic, last week Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) Executive Director Ted Vogt resigned, after failing to disclose his wife’s lobbying job for a contractor hired by utility Arizona Public Service (APS). This is merely the latest in a series a scandals which have repeated shown inappropriate ties between commissioners at the ACC and the utilities they are supposed to regulate, including an FBI investigation into possible inappropriate funding of elections.
But this textbook case of regulatory capture in the nation’s least credible state-level regulatory body may not actually be the biggest news of last week. Last Thursday, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona turned in 480,464 signatures to get an initiative calling for a 50% by 2030 renewable energy mandate on the November ballot.
— Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona (@CleanHealthyAZ) July 5, 2018
This is 7% of the state’s overall population, and while the lists must still be combed over by the Secretary of State, this is more than double the amount needed to get on the ballot.
The initiative is backed by billionaire clean energy advocate Tom Steyer, who has sponsored similar initiatives in a number of states. And just as another Steyer-backed initiative drew Michigan utilities to the bargaining table to agree to a 25% by 2030 (or greater) renewable energy goals, Arizona utilities appear to be likewise responding – or at least the commissioners who are supposed to regulate them are.
Last week Commissioner Andy Tobin (R) revealed additional details of how he plans to structure his proposed plan for the state to reach 80% “clean” energy by 2050. And if on the top line it appears that this goal is more ambitious than Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona’s, it is notable that the timeline is slightly slower. More centrally, this 80% would include nuclear power – meaning that the 4 GW existing Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station would be eligible for incentives currently reserved for renewable energy.
It would also include a minimum requirement for woody biomass, ostensibly in the interest of cleaning out fire-prone brush from the state’s forests.
We at pv magazine have yet to see any statement by Commissioner Tobin mentioning the relationship to his clean energy plan and Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona’s ballot push, or answering why he is choosing to push his plan at this time. However, it is notable that Arizona Public Service is the partial owner and operator of Palo Verde. It is also notable that ACC was not particularly interested in pushing clean energy plans before Tom Steyer dumped money into the 50 x 30 ballot campaign.
There is one more critical detail here. Remember Ted Vogt? Well, it turns out that the lobbying firm that his wife was hired by, Veridus, is working to fight the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative, as part of a campaign that has included ads depicting violent felons gathering signatures.
According to Arizona Republic, while Commissioners Boyd Dunn (R), Robert Burns (R) and Tom Forese (R) had all expressed concern about the conflict of interest that Vogt’s wife’s job represented, Tobin has sent no communication to other commissioners on the matter.