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Arizona Clean Energy Bill Has Strong Goals But Lacks Accountability

A controversial resolution mirrors the goals of a clean-energy initiative, but gives utilities an escape clause.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate Appropriations committee will debate HCR 2017, which was written with Arizona Public Service Co. The resolution states 50 percent of energy in Arizona should be produced by renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2030.

However, it prohibits the Arizona Corporation Commission  from implementing the new requirement if it would have any effect on "the affordability or cost'' of bills paid by customers.

HCR 2017 also spells out that the higher renewable goals could not be put into effect if it would affect the reliability of the electric grid, the delivery of electric services or "the well-being of this state.''

The move is the second by APS and other utilities in response to Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, a group being financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

The group is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would tie Arizona utilities to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Last week the Legislature approved, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed, a measure that limits penalties if utilities do not meet those goals.

It does not overrule what a ballot initiative would put into the Arizona Constitution, but does state the penalty could be no more than $5,000 and as little as $100.

The new proposal is being sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

"Right now the voters have a take-it-or-leave-it vote regarding this out-of-state billionaire's attempt to impose what many people believe will be a financially ruinous renewable energy mandate which, in addition to wreaking havoc on the economy and household budgets will potentially make the grid less stable,'' he said.

Kavanagh thinks it's irrelevant that APS drafted the language, “ because the voters should have a little more flexibility,'' he said.

He said elected officials have a right to offer up their own alternative to the Steyer initiative.

"It's giving the voters more of a voice,'' Kavanagh said. “And who could oppose that?''

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona organizers were unclear how to respond to the APS-crafted alternative. Spokeswoman Pita Juarez said it could actually be seen as a positive.

"Less than two months after we launched our movement for a clean, healthy Arizona, it's clear that even APS has recognized that Arizona voters want to take advantage of our endless supply of free solar energy and build towards a clean energy future,'' she said in a prepared statement. But Juarez had no answer to questions about the escape clause that would require regulators to ignore the requirements.

"We are carefully reviewing the specifics of the initiative to determine our next steps,'' she said.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.