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Arizona Could Make Major Changes To Renewable Mandate

The Arizona Corporation Commission is considering several significant proposals that would change energy regulation in the state, including how much of our power comes from renewables.

The state’s current renewable energy standard, completed over 10 years ago, is 15% by 2025. That’s lower than the goals of several neighboring states, but the standard is now up for discussion.

At a meeting at the Commission on Wednesday, Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, stressed it wanted flexibility in which energy sources it uses.

“Typically [in] July and August, it’s all hands on deck from a resource perspective,” said Brad Albert, a vice president at APS. “We’re using just about everything that we have in order to meet the reliability needs in the late afternoon, early evening time period.”

The flexibility Albert wants would include natural gas. A partial moratorium on constructing new natural gas generators in Arizona ended Thursday.

At the meeting, Albert introduced a consultant who made the case that wind and solar are not necessarily available at the precise moment they are needed.

“Those are the instances where we see natural gas as playing [a] crucial role in the reliability of the system,” said Nick Schlag of Energy and Environmental Economics.

But Amanda Ormond of Western Grid Group, which advocates for energy efficiency and increased renewable energy on the electric grid, said in an interview that battery technology is improving. Not only that, but solar and wind are becoming cheaper and cheaper. 

Ormond's group was part of a coalition of environmental, faith and clean energy groups urging a renewable standard of 50% by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2045. The term “renewable” energy does not include nuclear; “clean” does.

“These long-term policies are important to ensure that utilities move at as rapid a pace as they can, and it also signals to the investment community, to developers and manufacturers that Arizona is open for business and they should come here,” Ormond said. 

The group’s suggestion of 50% renewable energy requirement by 2030 is similar to Proposition 127, a ballot initiative voters rejected last year after stiff opposition from APS. 

A proposal from Corporation Commission staff has a lower bar: a Renewable Energy Goal of 45% of annual retail energy sales coming from renewable energy by 2035, and a Clean Peak Goal, for sales at peak times, of 20% clean energy by 2035. 

Kris Mayes, a former chairman of the Corporation Commissioner who co-wrote the current renewable energy standard, thinks a stronger renewable energy standard is long overdue.

“We need to get to 50% renewable energy and we need to get there fast,” Mayes said. “Renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity we have available to us. It’s also clean, it’s carbon-free, it helps us combat climate change.”

APS also announced two new efforts this week.

The company is accepting proposals to build 150 megawatts of solar generation that APS would then own. It is also seeking proposals for someone to build or sell the utility 250 megawatts of wind power. 

The company currently gets about 12% of its power from renewable sources and 50 percent from clean sources, according to APS. 

Mayes called the new projects “a minor step in the right direction, but nowhere near good enough.”

The review of the renewable energy standard comes as the Corporation Commission is also considering whether to let more competition into Arizona’s utility market. 

Commissioners will continue the meeting on the renewable energy standard on Aug. 7. Decisions on both matters are not likely before the fall. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to clarify the type of event held on Wednesday. 

Bret Jaspers was previously the managing editor for news at WSKG in upstate New York. Before that, he was a producer at WYPR in Baltimore and at Wisconsin Public Radio.His stories have aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and Here & Now, and also the BBC and Marketplace. Way back when, he started as an intern and fill-in producer at WNYC’s On the Media, and then helped out on The Brian Lehrer Show and Soundcheck.When he's not covering the news, he's probably running, reading, or eating. Jaspers is also a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union for professional stage actors.