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Effort to block clean energy rules stumbles in Legislature

March 12, 2021 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Efforts by Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature to strip elected utility regulators of their power to require utilities to get more electricity from clean energy sources have hit a big bump, with the state’s largest utility coming out in opposition to the move.

In addition, it appears the measure is falling short of votes in the state Senate after one GOP lawmaker said he cannot support the bill. With only a one-vote majority and all Democrats opposed, the loss of Republican Sen. Paul Boyer’s backing could be fatal for the legislation.

The push in the Legislature to gut the Arizona Corporation Commission’s authority to require utilities to use renewable power comes as the nation is getting larger amounts of electricity from solar, wind and other clean sources. The nation is moving away from coal-fired power generation as carbon emissions driving climate change are targeted for elimination.

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The commission voted for standards in November that would require most utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2035 and 100% by 2050. If given final approval this year, the rules would replace current standards requiring regulated utilities to use at least 15% renewable energy by 2025.

The move in the Legislature was prompted by a 2020 state Supreme Court ruling that called into question the commission’s ability to oversee anything other than rates if the Legislature gets involved. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is backing the effort.

Boyer learned of the opposition from Arizona Public Servic on Thursday,. The measure passed the House on a party-line vote last week.

Boyer raised reliability and other issues involving the possible change in oversight. He pointed to failures in Texas during the recent freeze and said similar problems could happen in Arizona if power pricing were the only concern the commission could evaluate. He said lawsuits over a change were also possible.

He asked if the Legislature is “the appropriate venue to govern energy policy, given that we’re not year-round and we do not have staff devoted solely to energy policy,” Boyer said.

The bigger roadblock could be APS, a powerful political force in the state that provides power to 1.1 million residential and commercial customers in 13 of 15 counties.

The utility supported the draft rules adopted by the commission in November but had not taken a position on the Legislature’s efforts until this week, saying the company believes the issue of energy rules should be settled in court. APS announced last year that it would get all its power from carbon-free sources by 2050.

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“APS has become increasingly concerned with the legal and regulatory uncertainties these bills would create over the Company’s ability to plan and procure infrastructure and generation necessary to continue ensuring the reliability and affordability of electricity,” Michael Vargas, director of state and local affairs for APS, wrote in a letter to Ducey’s office and bill sponsors in the House and Senate.

Calls to GOP Sen. Sine Kerr, the sponsor of the Senate bill, were not immediately returned Thursday.

Boyer said he wants more thought put into any effort to block the commission from imposing clean energy standards, suggesting lawmakers work through the issues for a year and possibly consider a change again in 2022.

“It was moving so quickly that I think we need to make sure that everybody’s comfortable,” Boyer said. “And now that APS is not comfortable, I really think we need to think this thing through.”