By Will Greene
You will be hard pressed to find five individuals more important to the future of Arizona than the five members of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). Two new Commissioners took the oath of office yesterday, Susan Bitter-Smith and Bob Burns, while Commissioner Bob Stump took his oath for a second time and was subsequently elected by his peers to chair the Commission for the next two years (chairs serve two year terms, I apologize for confusion regarding that point in a previous post). The new Commissioners join former chair Gary Pierce and Commissioner Brenda Burns. All are Republicans. You can find video of the inauguration ceremony here.
The ACC regulates Arizona’s monopoly utilities, approving or denying rate changes, energy resource plans, utility power plant deals, and setting incentives for renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Standard (RES) program. The board also regulates investment deals advised by its securities division and handles pipeline/railroad safety, and the creation of corporations. Decisions made by the ACC at monthly open meetings set the direction for Arizona’s energy future, and therefore its environmental and (to a significant degree) economic future.
Commissioner Bitter-Smith provided perhaps the only glimmer of hope for clean energy advocates during the event, making a nod to Governor Brewer’s support for Arizona’s solar industry stating that solar is “a part of our energy portfolio that is so important.”
In his first speech as chair, Chairman Stump delivered an eloquent address to the energy lobbyists, ACC staff, elected dignitaries, and citizens that were in the audience at the ACC’s flagship office at the state capitol in Phoenix. The new chair’s speech stressed gradualism in ratemaking, prudence in decision-making, and a commitment to a diversity of energy sources.
In the most telling portion of the speech and a clear reference to the ACC’s vital role in incentivizing renewable energy, Chairman Stump stated, “I am a betting man, so to speak, but I don’t bet recklessly. And I don’t bet with other people’s money. And that’s why I refuse to bet on, or cheerlead for any one form of technology.”
This jab at solar energy proponents ignores the fact that the RES program, passed by an all-Republican Commission in 2006, was not designed to support any particular technology. Instead, the wildly popular and successful incentive program was intended to begin weaning the state off fossil-based forms of energy (which are primarily imported and pollute) and onto a whole host of renewable energy options. An important aspect of the RES program is the leeway granted to the utilities to choose whichever renewable energy option most efficiently fulfills their RES requirements, whether it be solar pv, solar thermal, wind, geothermal, among other sources (the utilities often choose solar energy due to Arizona's unique solar resource). Chairman Stump’s inference that the ACC must reject picking and choosing energy sources is a straw-man argument, falsely inferring that those who support the RES are heavy-handed regulators, when their intention instead was to prepare Arizona for a future less dependant on imported, expensive, and polluting forms of energy.
Putting aside veiled slaps at Arizona’s solar future, all who care about our state should wish the new Commission luck as they weigh through the complicated issues that will arise at the ACC the next two years. I will keep you updated here on Blog for Arizona.