Arizona utility regulators reject 100% clean energy rules

Arizona’s utility regulators have rejected new rules that would have required most of the state’s electricity providers to get 100% of their power from clean energy sources by 2050 to limit carbon emissions and address climate change.

The 3-2 vote by the Arizona Corporation Commission on May 5 was a surprise because the plan was backed by the state’s major regulated utilities and was given initial approval by the commission on a 4-1 vote in November after three years of work.

Two new commissioners took office in January, but that change did not have a major effect on the outcome of Wednesday night’s vote. Instead, an amendment that turned the requirements into goals cost the support of the two Democrats on the panel. They were never backed by Republican Commissioner Justin Olson even though he pushed the amendment turning the rules into goals.

The decision means Arizona utilities will only be held to the current renewable energy standards adopted in 2006. They require utilities to get at least 15% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, although the state’s two largest utilities have announced voluntary plans to vastly increase their use of renewable energy and cut carbon emissions tied to climate change.

Failing to require changes that will lower carbon emissions puts Arizona behind other Western states that have increasingly been adopting tough new standards in an effort to limit the effect of climate change.

The defeated proposal would have required regulated Arizona utilities to get half their power from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2035 and 100% from clean energy, including nuclear, by 2050. It took three years of work by the commission and its staff, which held hours of hearings and took thousands of public comments, to craft the rules.

While the change was backed by the state’s largest utilities, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power, Gov. Doug Ducey opposed the commission’s effort.

The Republican governor pushed legislation this year to strip the elected regulators of their power to set energy policy. That legislation stalled after APS publicly opposed the effort and a Republican senator said he did not support the change. With all Democrats opposed, losing one Republican meant the proposal could not advance.

APS announced in January 2020 that it plans to get all its power from non-carbon emitting sources by 2050 and plans to end use of coal-fired power plants by 2031.

The utility, which supplies power to 1.1 million residential and commercial customers in 13 of 15 Arizona counties, will continue to rely on the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating station west of Phoenix for about 25% of its power. It will add utility-scale solar power plants, greatly increase battery storage and expects homeowners to add more rooftop solar panels to supply electricity.

Tucson Electric Power vowed early last year to retire its coal plants by 2032 and get more than 70% of its power from solar and wind by 2035. Its goal is to reduce carbon emissions, which are tied to climate change, by more than 70% by 2035.

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