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Ariz. legislature considers new 50% renewable energy constitutional amendment

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Ariz. legislature considers new 50% renewable energy constitutional amendment

The Arizona legislature is considering putting on the November ballot a constitutional amendment to require utilities to obtain 50% of their power from renewable energy — as long as it does not raise rates or harm electric reliability.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated on March 27 to take up House Concurrent Resolution 2017, which would amend the Arizona constitution, subject to voter approval, to require investor-owned utilities to generate at least 50% of their annual electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2030. The move at first blush might appear to counter Arizona Public Service Co.'s success at pushing through House Bill 2005, which Gov. Doug Ducey signed March 23, to limit penalties for utilities that do not comply with regulations specifying the type of electric generation resources they are required to obtain.

The Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary, though, wanted to head off the potential impact of another voter initiative to achieve the 50% by 2030 standard without imposing financial and reliability conditions on that goal. California billionaire Tom Steyer is funding that initiative through the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee, which is seeking to gather 225,953 signatures by July 5 to put its version on the ballot. The legislature can put its own constitutional amendment initiatives to voters without having to gather signatures.

Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said APS is pushing the legislature's version in order to sow confusion in the minds of voters. The name of the bill to amend the constitution is called the Clean and Affordable Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment, she noted.

"When you put something on the ballot that causes confusion, people vote 'no'," Bahr said. "They are pulling out their whole bag of dirty tricks."

The Arizona Corporation Commission in 2006 approved the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff act, which requires regulated electric utilities to generate 15% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025. The new amendment would require the commission "to evaluate specific factors to determine whether to implement the renewable energy requirements," according to a summary of the bill provided by Senate staff. In addition to prohibiting rate increases and avoiding grid reliability effects, the commission could not implement the requirements if they adversely affect the well-being of the state and its residents.

Asked for comment, APS released this statement: "Power reliability and affordability are fundamental to a responsible clean energy future for Arizona. Unfortunately, an irresponsible ballot initiative by California billionaire Tom Steyer is putting reliability and affordability at risk with devastating economic impacts for Arizonans. We are proposing this referendum to ensure Arizona elected policymakers are the ones advancing Arizona's clean energy future while preserving reliability, affordability, security and the best interests of our state."