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SRP election candidates accuse CEO of interference

Candidates running for Salt River Project’s boards and councils on a clean energy platform have accused the organization’s CEO of trying to influence the election that will pick the people who oversee SRP — and hire its top executives.

The self-described “clean energy” slate of candidates alleged that an internal letter CEO Jim Pratt sent to employees amounts to election interference. In the letter, Pratt accused special interests of spreading misinformation about SRP as it conducts its April 2 election. 

“Specifically, some are attacking or sharing inaccurate information about what we’re doing to meet unprecedented growth in our service territory and the goals and strategies we have developed to meet the challenges ahead,” Pratt wrote in the letter.

He goes on to detail what he describes as SRP’s “significant accomplishments,” including increasing the amount of solar energy in its portfolio between 2023 and 2024 and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The clean energy candidates believe Pratt’s letter, which largely focuses on burnishing the organization’s clean energy accomplishments, were directed at them. 

“While it may be fashionable to name a policy opponent as a special interest, the term doesn't fit SRP clean energy,” said board member and candidate Nick Brown.  “Our focus is to reduce carbon emissions from the current level of about 20 million tons per year to 5 million tons or so. That may be a sustainable level, and I suggest that that mission is very much in the public interest, not at all the special interest.”

Brown suggested Pratt’s letter was intended to influence SRP employees, some of whom may be eligible to vote in the organization’s ongoing election, which ends Tuesday, April 2.

“It's not stretching it to suggest it's probably election interference for the CEO to contact 5,900 employees a few days before the election with adverse claims against the clean energy group,” Brown said.

Only property owners who live within SRP’s original boundaries can vote in the election. The clean energy candidates said they do not know how many employees are also eligible voters.

An SRP attorney who observed the clean energy candidates deliver the accusations outside of the organization’s headquarters declined to comment, but an SRP spokesperson provided a statement responding to the claims.

“SRP’s CEO communicates regularly with employees about our work to serve customers with reliable, affordable and sustainable power and water, as well as other company milestones,” according to the statement. “The internal article provided the most recent and accurate information regarding SRP’s clean energy achievements and our ongoing efforts to meet significant growth in our service territory.”

The clean energy candidates questioned the veracity of the information Pratt provided in the letter, though.

In a written response to Pratt’s letter, the candidates questioned several of Pratt’s claims, including the claim that 35% of SRP’s energy mix comes from carbon-free sources. They alleged SRP has not publicly published data to back up that claim. 

“Again, simply publish this if it is true, with all the source and (megawatt hour) contribution detail,” they wrote in the response. 

“I am deeply concerned and extremely disappointed by the SRP CEO trying to influence the election of his board, especially by using false assertions,” said former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, who is also running for the board.

Former Tempe Councilwoman Lauren Kuby, who is running for the board, suggested the letter was a reaction by SRP leadership to the challenge the clean energy slate poses to the status quo.

“We're not a formalized group in any way, and we're 14 candidates,” Kuby said. “I don't think we've ever seen 14 candidates run for the SRP board and council challenging incumbents. It's usually the incumbents run and they run away with it.”

Eligible voters can cast ballots in SRP’s election at its headquarters, 1500 N. Mill Ave. in Tempe until 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2.  

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.