In a surprise vote, Arizona utility regulators reject a clean energy plan


Regulators in Arizona voted down new rules that would have required most of the state’s electricity providers to get all of their power from clean energy sources by 2050.

The 3-2 vote by the Arizona Corporation Commission reportedly was a surprise. The plan was backed by the state’s regulated utilities and was given initial approval by the commission on a 4-1 vote last November after three years of work.

The plan ran afoul of an amendment that turned requirements into voluntary goals. That change cost the support of the two Democrats on the panel.

The decision means Arizona utilities will held to renewable energy standards adopted in 2006. The standards require utilities to get at least 15% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.  The state’s two largest utilities have already announced voluntary plans to increase their use of renewable energy and cut carbon emissions tied to climate change.

The defeated proposal would have required regulated Arizona utilities to get half their power from solar, wind, and other renewable sources by 2035 and 100% from clean sources, including nuclear, by 2050. It took three years of work by the commission and its staff, which held hours of hearings and took thousands of public comments, to craft the rules.

The change was backed by the state’s largest utilities, but was opposed by Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, who backed legislation this year to strip  regulators of their power to set energy policy. That legislation stalled after utility Arizona Public Service (APS) publicly opposed the effort and a Republican senator said he did not support the change. With all Democrats opposed, the loss of that one Republican meant the proposal could not advance.

APS announced in January 2020 that it plans to get all its power from non-carbon emitting sources by 2050 and plans to end use of coal-fired power plants by 2031.

The utility gets about 25% of its power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating station west of Phoenix. It plans to add utility-scale solar power plants, increase battery storage, and looks to homeowners to add more rooftop solar panels to supply electricity.

Tucson Electric Power said last year it will retire its coal plants by 2032 and get more than 70% of its power from solar and wind by 2035.

Non-regulated Salt River Project said in early May that it planned to more than double its 2025 utility-scale solar commitment to add 2,025 MW of new utility-scale solar energy to its power system by the end of its 2025 fiscal year. The new goal is more than 1,000 MW beyond SRP’s original 2025 commitment of 1,000 MW, announced in November 2018.

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