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Power grab? Twin bills look to strip Arizona Corporation Commission of some authority

Arizona Corporation Commission
Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-17 17:50:56-05

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) voted 3-2 to officially take a neutral position on House legislation that would strip some authority from the state’s elected board, which regulates Arizona’s investor-owned electric utilities, on Friday.

If enacted, the bill would undo a large portion of the state’s proposed clean energy rules that will require electric utilities to be 100% carbon-free by 2050. The rules are in the last stages of being finalized by the Commission.

House Bill 2248 would negate the Commission’s authority to pass such rules. Specifically, it would prevent the ACC from adopting or enforcing “a policy, decision or rule that directly or indirectly regulates the types of critical electric generation resources used or acquired by public service corporations within this state’s energy grid, "without the consent of the Legislature."

The vote to remain neutral was split along party lines.

Republicans Lea Marquez Peterson, Justin Olson and Jim O’Connor voted in favor. Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Anna Tovar voted against.

Chairwoman Marquez Peterson said the neutral stance was only an initial position to begin communicating with the Legislature and, “to be able to provide information and data to the legislators as they move through this bill and to see where it goes.”

O’Connor agreed. Olson, the lone “no” vote on the clean energy rules passed by the last Commission in November, went a step further with an endorsement of sorts saying, “Quite frankly I'm supportive of the objective of this bill and that is to make it clear that the state legislature, governor and the executive branch has that responsibility of establishing policies for public health.”

Olson went on to say, “Our role is to ensure that our utilities are compliant with those regulations.”

Commissioners Kennedy and Tovar forcefully disagreed.

“I am pretty saddened today,” Kennedy said. “We have taken an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. Clearly, this is unconstitutional.”

She and Tovar vowed to file their own positions in opposition to the bill.

“I definitely feel that it is a power play from the legislators,” Tovar said. “The ACC exists to regulate utilities, protect consumers and establish where we get our energy.”

Court Rich, an attorney with Rose Law Group who represents solar industry groups that have been heavily involved with updating the energy rules, told ABC15 the bill could undo years of work by hundreds of stakeholders.

“The utilities, solar providers, energy efficiency activists, big businesses, small businesses--everyone you can imagine, has been at the table and working on this for half a decade,” Rich said. “The prospect of legislation coming along at the very last second, and creating massive uncertainty is really unfortunate. I mean, that's not how government should work.”

And he says thousands of jobs are at stake.

"This is just terrible for business. I mean, you know, solar and renewable energy, it's just jobs. It's a huge investment in [the] state, it's tax money," he said.

HB 2248 was introduced by Rep. Gail Griffin, a Republican.

An identical version introduced in the Senate, SB 1175, is being sponsored by six Republican Senators: Sine Kerr, David Gowan, T.J. Shope, Vince Leach, David Livingston and Rick Gray.

Legislators may feel empowered because of an Arizona Supreme Court decision handed down over the summer involving the troubled water company, Johnson Utilities.

The court affirmed that the ACC had the authority to appoint an interim manager after years of customer complaints about the poor quality of water and sewer service. But it also opened the door to allowing the legislature the share some authority with the ACC in cases that are not specifically about rate-making, according to Rich.

“There are some things that are uniquely the Corporation Commission. There's some things that they can both speak on. And when they do both weigh-in, the legislature takes precedent.”

None of the legislators provided ABC15 a comment in time for our story.

HB 2248 is scheduled for its first hearing on Tuesday, January 19 at 2 p.m. To see the meeting agenda click here.

SB 1175 will be heard on Wednesday, January 20 at 2 p.m. For details on SB 1175, click here.