Two four-year seats are up for grabs on the Arizona Corporation Commission, a not-very-sexy-sounding state institution but one that has an enormous impact on Arizonans.
We support incumbent Commissioner Gary Pierce and Brenda Burns, both Phoenix-area Republicans. Both told us they support more use of solar and other renewable energy options in Arizona, which we regard as a high priority for Arizona's energy future.
The five-member commission regulates utilities - and thus the rates that consumers and businesses must pay- plus securities sales, corporations and railroad and pipeline safety. It has taken the lead in requiring regulated utilities to install alternative energy options such as solar and wind.
Pierce is seeking a second four years on the commission and Burns, a former legislator and state Senate president, wants a first term. The other candidates are Democrats David Bradley and Jorge Luis Garcia, both state legislators from Tucson; and Mesa Libertarian Rick Fowlkes, an engineer.
The two candidates with the most votes will join Republican Bob Stump and Democrats Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy on the five-member commission. Chairwoman Kris Mayes, a Republican, is termed out.
Both Pierce and Burns have expertise they will bring to bear in the jobs, Pierce as an incumbent and Burns because she worked on energy and regulatory reform issues as a legislator.
Pierce said he wants to minimize "rate shock" for users of power in Arizona by insisting on "step-by-step" increases by utilities.
He also believes having renewable energies "in the mix" is valuable, but said he would prefer setting a year-by-year goal in place of the commission's current alternative-energy mandate. We're skeptical about this.
The commission is requiring regulated utilities to generate 15 percent of their sales from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2025. Ratepayers pay monthly surcharges to help pay for installation of renewable energy alternatives.
The surcharge, said Garcia, was "a carrot" the commission extended to utility companies.
"If we had left it up to the free market in Arizona, we would not be up where we are now. ... We need to thank the Corporation Commission of four or five years ago, which took the leap of faith," he said. "If it were left up to APS and TEP, the rural co-ops would still be talking about whether solar is good or bad."
We agree. Pierce should be aware that any backpedaling on the renewable mandate could be dangerous to Arizona's energy future. Affordable alternative energy - and it exportation - should be a significant driver of the state's economic future.
Burns said the alternative-energy mandate is "a good start" and predicted utilities will meet the 15 percent goal before 2025.
Among the key issues facing the commission is water sustainability. Both Burns and Pierce regard new nuclear-energy resources as important, although nuclear reactors require tremendous amounts of water for use as a coolant.
We've been wary of nuclear energy in the past because of the exorbitant cost of building new plants, and because of environmental issues - including especially waste disposal and water use.
However, we believe Arizona utilities' high reliance on coal-fueled generators must be reduced because of the more urgent environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions they generate, which exacerbate the greenhouse effect that traps heat in our atmosphere. Thus we favor judicious exploration of expansion of nuclear reactor use in Arizona, calibrated to protect water resources and the state's environment.
Burns said there are alternatives to water as a nuclear coolant, noting that dry or hybrid techniques are being developed.
She also opposed the Legislature's effort earlier this year to include nuclear power as an element meeting the renewable standard.
"The Legislature and the corporation commission have been pretty combative" in the recent past, she noted. She said she would work to improve cooperation between them.
Both Pierce and Burns have the qualifications to serve on the commission.
Both must protect energy consumers and the alternative energy drive in Arizona, and work to preserve Arizona water resources and to enhance our state's environmental future.
Arizona Daily Star