APS spends $11 million, can’t keep renewable initiative off the ballot

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As the transition to renewable energy gains steam, utilities are digging in with their efforts to delay action and preserve their investments in conventional power. And while they are losing the war, they are having greater success in states where democracy is less functional.

The tactics of Entergy New Orleans’ contractors in Louisiana, which include paying actors to show support for a gas plant and disrupting meetings of advocates, have gotten the biggest headlines. However Arizona is definitely in competition for the state with the dirtiest energy politics.

These include a history of scandals involving collusion between members of the Arizona Corporation Commission and the utilities that they are supposed to regulate, and even an FBI investigation into potential “dark money” spent by utility Arizona Public Service (APS).

But ACC races aren’t all that APS is funding. The utility’s parent company, Pinnacle West Corporation, has poured money into attempting to stop an initiative which would allow the state’s voters to decide on a 50% by 2030 renewable energy mandate.

According to the latest records by the Arizona Secretary of State, Pinnacle West has donated $7.5 million to Arizonans for Affordable Electricity (AAE), as its sole source of income for this election cycle.

AAE is not the only political action committee (PAC) that is the recipient of APS’ largesse. The utility has also given $3.2 million to Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy, which is also working to defeat the measure.

As a side note, perhaps the use of “Arizonans” in these political action committees’ names should be reconsidered, as they appear to be shell entities serving APS for the purpose of preventing Arizonans from having a say in energy policy. But I digress.

These two PACs have hired some of the same firms in their attempt to keep this choice out of the hands of voters, including PR and lobbying firm Veridus LLC. That name should ring a bell, as this was the firm that former ACC Executive Director Ted Voigt’s wife worked for – and his failure to disclose this was the cause of his dismissal.

Veridus is also the firm that purchased ads showing violent felons gathering signatures. Small world, isn’t it?

The below-the-belt tactics of these two organizations did not stop there. AAE paid nearly $6 million to Petition Partners, some of which has been used to bribe petition gatherers to the tune of $5,000 – $7,500 each to quit. This tactic has been described as “recruiting” by AAE.

Regardless, these dirty tactics appear to have not paid off, as Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona turned in nearly 500,000 signatures – nearly double the number needed – to get the referendum on the November 6 ballot.

The anticipated confirmation of these signatures will likely signal the next round of big spending by APS/Pinnacle West. Given the track record, we can only imagine what they will come up with next.

 

Editor’s note: More information on the political connections of individuals hired by firms contracted with these two PACs can be found in this analysis by Energy and Policy Institute, which served as a source for this article.