Trial begins over renewable energy proposal in Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) - Hundreds of witnesses came to court Monday in downtown Phoenix for a trial over whether a proposal requiring the use of more renewable energy in Arizona should be barred from appearing on the November ballot.

Most of the witnesses at the five-day trial had gathered signatures from voters on behalf of the campaign to put the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona proposal on the ballot.

The trial began with an unknown number of signature petitions being thrown out because the people who gathered them had felony convictions and couldn't prove that their civil rights had been restored. Arizona law bars signature gatherers from having felony convictions.

The state has already said the campaign in favor of the proposal had gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot, but opponents are pushing forward with a lawsuit alleging that not enough valid signatures were collected.

The lawsuit said signatures should be thrown out because the people who were paid to collect signatures failed to register with the state, a document used by signature collectors didn't accurately reflect whether they were paid or volunteers, and the signatures didn't match the signers' voter registration records.

The Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona proposal would require half the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, compared with the current mandate of 15 percent by 2025.

A campaign opposing the measure is funded by Arizona Public Service Co.'s parent company. APS has said proposal would cause utility rates to rise and harm reliability.

A large amount of the renewable energy campaign's funding has come from a group backed by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer. Supporters of the initiative say Arizona hasn't taken advantage of its role as the sunniest state in the nation to develop more solar energy.