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Local Opinion: Do we feel lucky?

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Dear Nick Myers and Kevin Thompson,

Congratulations on being elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission, but your very narrow margin of victory is neither a mandate to put your fingers in the renewable energy dike nor a triumph over having to pay very close attention to climate mitigation solutions.

With climate catastrophe threatening all of us, you both will have to understand that in your new roles you can: no longer be tied to the philosophy of your for-profit employers (In Kevin’s case, Southwest Gas); and cannot be spending most of your time closely monitoring consumer electricity shutoffs and utility company billing oversights (Nick). For sure, it’s part of your marching orders, Nick, and you can hide behind that in your new role. But if you do that, and Kevin still sees himself as part of the utility mindset, you’ll both fail us all.

And when your grandchildren are in a climate world you never faced and ask: “What did you do when you knew?” trust me when I say you don’t want to tell them you helped keep electricity costs down by relying on more natural gas plants and on skewing Arizona’s energy mix away from renewables. That may be what you would have been doing for Southwest Gas — allow utilities to decide what’s best for the public — but for this job you’ll need to fill much bigger shoes with eyes open wide for the public good, or you’ll both fail us all.

And now that you’ve won you don’t need to scare voters away from renewable energy by relying on quite outdated and misleading battery storage economics (you claimed adding battery storage to renewable costs added 500% to their costs.) You now have the responsibility to get your facts right, or you’ll both fail us all.

For sure Nick, generating power is different from storing power and being able to use it when you need it. But being the bully pulpit for utility company dogma about peak power requirements does not stand up to current (like right now, not tomorrow) battery storage capabilities or real-world utility needs for peak power. A typical refrain from utility companies would likely be: “Hey, we tested batteries, they’re not economical, they can’t supply peak energy, so give us the rate increase to buy more methane gas.” But that kind of thinking excludes not only any analysis of battery economies of scale but also excludes the superior efficiency of custom battery solutions over off-the-shelf purchases. And I doubt that those renewable energy costs you claim add 500% to their bottom line take into account that hard costs (interconnection, maintenance and pre-development) are pretty much the same whether it’s a 1-megawatt battery system or a 10-megawatt battery system.

Cries from utility companies that peak power demands eliminate battery solutions do not take into account research showing that the four-hour peak power demand threshold bandied about by utility companies is really more like three hours, and frequently like two hours. Becoming a megaphone for the utilities’ straw man four-hour threshold will not be in the public’s best interests that your campaigns centered upon. If you do not consider current battery technology and real-world peak power demand research, you’ll both fail us all.

You’ve both now stepped into the kind of climate change limelight that will tax your existential souls, and you’ll need the kind of climate vision that will make your grandchildren proud of what you did when you knew.

The impending climate catastrophe feels like Clint Eastwood staring you down and asking: “Do you feel lucky?” Relying on luck to mitigate climate catastrophe feels a bit like relying on utilities beholden to shareholders to do the right thing for us all.

That ain’t gonna happen, boys. It’s up to you.

Rick Rappaport is a member of the Tucson Climate Coalition and the Tucson chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. He lives in Oro Valley.

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