There they go again. This time an Arizona House panel has voted to overturn an Arizona Corporation Commission alternative-energy mandate and to strip the commission of its authority to impose such requirements.
HB 2701 is almost certainly unconstitutional, according to Corporation Commission Chairwoman Kris Mayes, and it may already be driving jobs in the burgeoning solar and renewable energy fields out of Arizona and into Texas, Oregon and California.
The bill, if passed, would be "devastating to our chances of attracting solar-energy companies. It's a job killer in the middle of an epic recession," she told us Wednesday. "I guarantee you that people in other states are already on the phone with solar companies who had planned to come here."
Rep. Frank Antenori, R-District 30, is one of the primary sponsors of the measure, which would substitute a Legislature-crafted renewable energy "mandate" for the Corporation Commission's 2006 order requiring utilities to generate at least 15 percent of their power by 2025 from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources.
According to Capitol Media Services, the Legislature's substitute requirement, drafted by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, is so laced with loopholes that it would merely undo the Corporation Commission's order.
The lawmakers' version would allow utilities to meet the alternative-energy requirement by using nuclear or hydro power. The result of that, said Mayes, would be "that the utilities would not have to add new renewables for decades."
The bill also gives utilities room to slip out of a requirement to buy energy generated by renewable producers, other than coal, oil and natural gas.
The Corporation Commission last week voted unanimously to oppose the bill, Mayes said. Its lobbyist warned the House Government Committee that the bill is probably illegal, Capitol Media reported. Still lawmakers passed it, 5-2.
Lesko said it should be up to lawmakers, not commission members, to set energy policy.
We don't think so. This is why Arizonans elect a Corporation Commission and provide its members with a sophisticated staff - to regulate utilities and to set energy policies that will benefit the state.
Lawmakers have just about zero expertise - or staff with expertise - in this rarefied, complex field.
Furthermore, the Corporation Commission's commitment to increasing use of solar, hydro, wind and other energies in Arizona has begun to pay off in significant ways.
A New York-based energy company, Bell Independent Power Corp., announced last month that it will build a $32 million solar thermal plant at the University of Arizona's Tech Park. Solana - a 280-megawatt solar power plant - is being built near Gila Bend by Alengoa Solar and Arizona Public Service.
But one of Arizona's celebrated solar "gets" is Suntech Power Holdings, whose lobbyist told lawmakers that her firm will probably not build a solar-panel manufacturing plants in Goodyear after all.
Polly Shaw said Suntech's decision to come to Arizona was largely based on the commission's renewable-energy requirements.
"Broadening the definition of 'renewable' to include nuclear and hydro power will gut the renewable standard," Shaw testified. "It will obliterate demand for solar."
Mayes urged Arizonans to let their lawmakers know their views on HB 2710, adding "there is such a disconnect between a handful of Republican lawmakers, unfortunately from my party, and the rest of the state. Arizonans want these companies coming here providing jobs."
Further, she said, "every day this thing stays out there, it creates additional collateral damage to our image. I got a phone call from a Wall Street analyst this morning who wanted to know what on earth is going on in Arizona."
The bill should be killed, and quickly. To strangle Arizona's solar baby before it has a chance to grow and mature is worse than shortsighted, it's damaging to our state's future.
Arizona Daily Star
How they voted
Yes: Frank Antenori,R-Tucson; David Gowan, R-Tucson; Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix; Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park; Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley.
No: Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix; Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert.
Not voting: Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff; Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson.