Like other states in the West, Arizona is caught in a tug-of-war between advocates who want a rapid decarbonization of the electricity system and utilities that want to take their own sweet time, but that are being pulled in that direction.
The parent company of the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), managed to pour enough money into the 2018 election to kill a ballot initiative that would have set a 50% by 2030 renewable energy mandate for the state. However, if APS won that battle, it is losing the war. Despite years of “dark money” spending APS appears to have lost control of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), with newly elected Commissioner Sandra Kennedy (D) calling for 50% renewable energy by 2028.
But the pressure is not only coming from ballot initiatives and the ACC – it is also coming from APS’ customers. Furthermore, APS’ resistance to these policies does not mean that it is not deploying renewable energy. In fact, yesterday the utility announced that it plans launch two requests for proposals (RFPs) to procure 150 MW of solar by 2021, and 250 MW of wind as soon as possible.
The wording of a press release indicates that the power from these new projects will be sold through a “green tariff” program that allows large companies to procure renewable energy through APS. This further suggests that the impetus from this program is the renewable energy targets that tech giants and an increasing number of other companies have set.
APS estimates that this will allow it to expand its renewable energy portfolio to around 2.5 GW by 2021. The date for the RFPs to be issued is September 15 of this year.
One notable detail is that the volume of wind being procured is much higher than the solar volume. Solar represented nearly 6% of Arizona’s electricity generation last year, but wind only 0.5%. On a seasonal basis the output of wind can partially balance that of solar, as wind in Arizona has its highest output during the fall months.
This is particularly important given the active electricity trade with California, as on the West Coast – unlike all other geographies studied by pv magazine – wind output does not balance out solar output on a seasonal basis.
Calls for 100%
APS’ announcement of its twin RFPs comes the same day that a coalition of more than two dozen groups representing consumer, faith, business, health and tribal community interests submitted a joint proposal calling for Arizona to transition to 100% clean energy by 2045, with an interim target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.
These are similar targets to the mandates that have been passed in New Mexico and California over the past few years. This 50% by 2030 is also exactly the target that the Tom Steyer-backed Clean Energy for A Healthy Arizona campaign was pushing for in 2018. Additionally, like that campaign the new proposal would also require that by 2030 10% of all electricity to come from distributed resources – including rooftop solar and community solar.
Finally, the proposal includes a call greater transparency and public engagement in energy planning, meaning more scrutiny of utility integrated resource plans. Specifically:
Establishing a more comprehensive and transparent energy planning process, to provide more effective opportunities for public and stakeholder engagement and greater accountability when the ACC reviews utilities’ integrated resource plans.
The proposal has strong backing among solar advocates, with Vote Solar, Solar United Neighbors, Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and Western Resource Advocates joining Navajo non-profit Diné CARE among the organizations supporting this call.
Whether this particular proposal succeeds or not, clean energy advocates in Arizona show no sign of stopping. APS is being dragged into a clean energy future, inevitably at a pace which is not entirely of its own choice.