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SRP Election Results Show Status Quo

The utility Salt River Project held an election for its board on Tuesday, and almost every incumbent won his race for the board. The lone exception did not run for re-election. 

Half of the board’s fourteen seats were on the ballot in an election that  typically gets about 1% turnout

A slate of solar candidates maintained — but didn’t expand — its strength. Solar candidates Nick Brown and Anda McAfee (who replaces the retiring Paul Hirt) won the two at-large seats being contested, so the group still controls all four of those slots. 

The other seats,  which have district boundaries, all went to more traditional board members.

One is Keith Woods, who won re-election. Woods is not in the solar caucus but still thinks SRP should pay new rooftop solar customers a higher rate for the electricity they generate and sell back to the grid. 

“I feel that the accurate demonstration of value is what I consider to be the average kilowatt per hour that SRP happens to pay for wholesale power,” Woods said. 

Woods said the average price SRP pays per kilowatt-hour in 2019 was 6.7 cents, which is significantly more than what rooftop solar customers get in the  company’s current plans. He said he would continue to push for a higher compensation for new rooftop solar customers.

Seats like Woods’ are determined by acreage-based voting. The more land you own, the more votes you have. (By contrast, at-large seats are one property owner, one vote.) The acreage-based voting system comes from the deal struck over a century ago to build the Roosevelt Dam for flood control in the Salt River Valley. 

Kathy Mohr-Almeida, an environmental advocate who was trying to win one of the seats determined by acreage-based voting, called that system a “sham.”

“It really makes it difficult for anyone who’s not part of the establishment to win,” she said.

Another candidate pushing renewable energy, Jim Moule, said his opponent owned many acres within the district, giving him an immediate advantage. Moule lost by a  substantial margin.

“I knew what it was going in, and I wasn’t surprised by what I got,” Moule said.

Woods likened the acreage-based voting system to how corporate shareholders elect their board of directors. He also said traditional board members ran differently this year than in years past.

“I think that traditional SRP board members have done a better job of framing their message,” he said, pointing to their campaign message of looking out for customers through  keeping electricity rates low

SRP decided to push ahead with in-person voting despite public health concerns related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The company said it was required by state law to hold the contest when it did, and provided drive-through voting at its headquarters in Tempe.

Mailing a ballot to every eligible voter was not possible, according to SRP spokesman Scott Harrelson. 

“The owner of a property who is eligible to vote in an SRP election may not live at that property and SRP would have no knowledge of this,” he said in an email, noting that the company cannot send a ballot to anyone who isn’t eligible. “When a voter contacts us and provides the mailing address, then we have that info and can provide them with an early ballot.”

The official canvass of the election will be Monday, April 13. Winners take office on May 4 and 5.

According to SRP, 650,224 property owners could potentially vote in the District election, although they would have to be registered to vote in Arizona as well. In this election, 12,524 District early ballots went out via mail. Of those, 5,935 were returned.

Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.