The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
New clean energy rules are on the Arizona Corporation Commission’s agenda for its upcoming May 4 meeting. At this meeting, the commission’s chair, Lea Marquez Peterson, has the chance to lead Arizona into a new era by voting to put these rules into effect.
If approved, these rules will update Arizona’s energy standards to put us on a path to 100% carbon reduction by 2050. They will also promote investments in energy efficiency and energy storage, make the utility planning process more transparent, and facilitate a just transition to clean energy sources for communities historically left behind.
And the rules will help Arizona regain the leadership we once exhibited when we were the first among our neighbors to introduce clean energy standards — though Arizona now falls far behind New Mexico and Nevada.
Tucson homeowners like me will benefit from the rules. I recently installed solar panels on my roof, but balked at paying for battery storage that could optimize an electric vehicle purchase and contribute to a more resilient grid.
If the commission approves this energy storage standard that includes customer-owned systems, it will motivate utilities to help individual consumers with incentives that defray some of the initial costs.
This is especially helpful to make solar more accessible for low- and moderate-income households, who can receive more incentives to install solar panels and energy storage as well as to replace outdated appliances through the new energy efficiency standard.
Of course, we all benefit due to the impact these rules will have on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.
As Tucsonans and Arizonans, we already see hotter weather making our lives difficult and drought conditions forcing us to renegotiate our water sources. We can distribute solar energy production on land that is already developed, generating electricity right where the people are and avoiding habitat impacts to our desert species.
The law students I teach are well aware of these natural resource constraints and are eager to help people adapt. We must act now.
The commission is well within its authority under the Arizona Constitution to finalize these rules. These energy rules arguably come under the commission’s sole and expansive ratemaking authority due to the impact these standards would have on utility generation portfolios and costs passed to consumers (for example, solar power is cheaper than power from burning fossil fuels).
And although an Arizona Supreme Court ruling last year held that the commission shares “permissive” authority with the legislature to regulate public health and safety, that does not prevent the commission from finalizing these rules.
Meanwhile, the state legislature has not enacted conflicting bills. Others note that the court actually has not determined which authority governs the energy rules — merely that appointing a utility’s interim manager was within its permissive authority but not its ratemaking authority.
The commission is empowered to move forward on the Energy Rules regardless of which authority it uses.
Chair Marquez Peterson should take this opportunity to approve the energy rules, which the five-member commission had agreed 4 to 1 on a bipartisan basis (with her favorable vote) in November to begin the formal rulemaking after thoroughly discussing the issue for three years.
Arizona voters rewarded her engagement while developing these rules and her interest in consumer protection, electing her in 2020 to a full four-year term and facilitating her assumption of the chair role. Now we need her leadership to finish this rulemaking that will improve the lives of Arizonans into the future.
Priya Sundareshan is an attorney and teaches the natural resources law clinic at the University of Arizona.