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Environmentalists Say APS' Clean Energy Plan Needs More Renewables, Efficiency

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: As we heard yesterday on The Show from APS CEO Jeff Guldner, the utility has announced an ambitious plan to deliver 100% clean, carbon-free energy by 2050. Now there is a difference between "clean" and "renewable," and soon after the big announcement some environmental activists called for more — and sooner. I sat down with Sandy Bahr from the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club to hear more about just how far she and others would like to APS go. And I started by asking for her initial response to the overall plan.

SANDY BAHR: We think what APS is proposing is a move in the right direction. They they do include a commitment to some renewables. And, you know, we we would like to see more, but it's definitely a move in the right direction, especially with going carbon-free by 2050.

GOLDSTEIN: So the conversation that I had with Jeff Guldner, he definitely emphasized the importance of Palo Verde, which makes some people nervous when it comes to putting that much emphasis on nuclear. What's your reaction to that?

BAHR: Yes, we don't think they should double down on nuclear power. Palo Verde by 2050 will be a pretty old plant. The licensing doesn't even go out that far. We think that it's important for them to look at solar plus storage. That's their great opportunity to invest there. And they can do a lot more with energy efficiency as well. That is absolutely the cheapest, cleanest thing that they can do. So yeah, we're not big fans. Nuclear power takes lots of water. We are in a desert. And even if it's reclaimed, treated water, that's a lot of water. There's no way we can deal with the waste. So we would like to see them really emphasize the renewables, which they did commit to 45% by 2030, and that was renewables. So if they can do 45% in 2030, they can do a lot more by 2050.

GOLDSTEIN: I did want to ask you whether, considering how APS has approached this to this point, whether it seems ambitious.

BAHR: Yes. They have been fighting any increases in the renewable energy standard at the Corporation Commission as well as on the ballot. And they have been doing things that we think actually undermine clean energy. So yes, it is a change of direction. We would like to see the Arizona Corporation Commission — the entity that regulates APS and other monopoly utilities — to require all of our state's utilities to increase their renewable energy, including there's a proposal right now for 50% by 2028 from Commissioner Kennedy. That would be a great start.

GOLDSTEIN: Is there reason to think the Corporation Commission is ready to act on that? Is the reason to think that an act like this by APS, after having some conflict with the Corporation Commission, is going to give them some wiggle room, in a sense, where the Corporation Commission may give them some room because they think this is something they're trying to do in good faith after some conflicts.

BAHR: I think the commissioners understand, or at least several of them understand the role they play. Yes, APS has voluntarily made this commitment, but we we've seen them change direction before. And they have been going in a very bad direction in recent years. And so we need the Corporation Commission to do its job and hold APS accountable and also insist that the other utilities follow suit. The regulated ones. Salt River Project isn't regulated by the commission, and so I just want to make sure I'm clear about that. But yeah, I think that they understand that they can't just say, "Oh, this is great. And nothing more to do here."

GOLDSTEIN: Well, Guldner certainly did not refer to the Corporation Commission as partners in any way. But he did talk about having to work together. Does that sound promising, at least in a sense?

BAHR: Well, some could argue they worked together all too much previously. Yes, they can work together. But with the recognition that it is that the Commission regulates this entity and must because it is a monopoly. ... I am an APS customer. I cannot take my business elsewhere unless I move. And so it's important for the Commission to do its job. But I think that there is opportunity for APS to move forward with its plans to become a carbon free-utility to implement much more renewable energy and do so while working through the Arizona Corporation Commission to ensure that it is, you know, paying attention to what what customers need and in some ways that, you know, it's doing more than what it committed to do. Because, for example, energy efficiency is something they didn't talk too much about. That is absolutely the cheapest, cleanest thing that they can do. It's great for customers. Utilities have backed off on energy efficiency a little bit because our standard expires at the end of this year. So that's an important role the Commission can play and say, "Wait a minute. You need to have more energy efficiency as part of this plan to become carbon-free."

GOLDSTEIN: One other important element that I wanted to bring up to you: eliminating coal by the end of 2031. That's still 11 years away. We've seen tremendous progress when it comes to that. Could that be more ambitious?

BAHR: Absolutely. And it is a positive direction. So they're moving that date back at Four Corners, for example, from 2038 to 2031. They they could do more. We commissioned a report with Strategen several months ago, and it showed that if the utilities moved to solar plus storage, plus maybe some market purchases, they could save billions of dollars for Arizona customers. And that includes Four Corners and getting out of the coal plant early now — the date we used in the report, that Strategen used in the report was 2023 So I think it's quite clear that they can exit coal earlier and save money for their customers.

GOLDSTEIN: Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, thank you as always.

BAHR: Thank you.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.