Paul's Note - September 4, 2020

I am going to do something that not enough people in politics are willing to do: I’m going to admit a mistake.

In my newsletter two weeks ago, I wrote that Tucson Electric Power spent money to elect candidates to the Corporation Commission, the body that regulates utilities. They did not.

Arizona Public Service, the largest utility in Arizona, spent millions to elect members of that board. In 2014, they spent $12.9 million on 16 separate political action committees (you read that right, 16). A bit more than $10 million of that went to committees supporting their favorite candidates fo the Arizona Corporation Commission, yes,the body that regulates them.

In 2018, APS’s parent company spent $3.2 million to elect a friendly commission. Much of the activity in that election was carried out by so-called dark money groups. These are non-profits that claim to be “educational” to avoid disclosure of donors or spending.

Whether or not you think that TEP held APS’s coat or that they stayed out of the Corporation Commission race because of civic virtue, they were happy to fight solar on the ballot in other ways.

In 2018, citizens placed Proposition 127 on the ballot. State utilities are under a requirement (mandated by previous Corporation Commissions) to have 15% of their energy portfolio come from renewables (in Arizona, that would mostly be solar). The proposition would have required our utilities to be at 50% by 2030. If that sounds radical, the proposition was supported by Kris Mayes, a former Republican Corporation Commissioner, and Barry Goldwater Jr.

Almost $40 million was spent in reported money by opponents of the proposition, plus who knows more by those dark money groups. Among the most active groups opposing the measure was a organization called Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, mostly funded by our state’s electrical utilities. Among their contributions was $50,000 from Unisource Energy, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power.

By the way, the argument from the “Affordable Electricity” folks was that we’d see rate hikes. Guess what? Both TEP and APS have asked for rate hikes in the two years since their money defeated Proposition 127.

By the way, remember when I put that fact in the newsletter about the hottest July on record? Since I wrote that we have now had the hottest August on record. We will continue breaking records until corporations like TEP work with us to address climate change.

It should be enough to say we need to use less fossil fuels and go for cleaner and, in the long run, cheaper alternatives. But establishing more aggressive standards can help the economy too. Many high tech employers like Apple and Tesla are looking at renewable standards when deciding where to locate new operations.

TEP deserves credit for their investments in battery and generator technology, however, they’ve been moving far too slow on moving away from dirty power. Moves they have supported at the commission, from getting rid of net metering a few years ago to this years move to prevent too many neighbors in a given area from using solar, are not helping our community end our dependence on fossil fuels. Frankly, it’s killing us.