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Ariz. commissioner calls for 80% clean energy by 2050

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Ariz. commissioner calls for 80% clean energy by 2050

Attempting to spur his regulatory colleagues into action, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin urged fellow commissioners to adopt a sweeping utility asset acquisition and management plan that calls for the state to obtain 80% of its power from renewable sources by 2050.

The plan, which Tobin wants to adopt by Feb. 14, 2019, would guide utility infrastructure investments to midcentury, including requirements for utilities to have 3,000 MW of energy storage by 2030. Tobin announced his effort to obtain final adoption of the plan only weeks before the midterm elections, which in Arizona will include a vote on Proposition 127, a ballot measure to adopt a state constitutional amendment to require utilities to get 50% of their power from renewable energy by 2030.

"I would not support my plan if it were embedded in Arizona's constitution," the commissioner said in the press release. In a phone interview, Tobin said he has not taken a position on the voter initiative because he wants his clean energy plan, called the Arizona Energy Modernization Plan, to stand on its own, rather than being tied to the renewable energy requirement. Establishing a rigid renewable standard could shortchange more effective and economical solutions, Tobin said, such as flattening peak demand in order to curtail the use of gas-fired plants.

Unlike the proposed state mandate, Tobin's energy plan would be subject to periodic review as new technologies emerge. While it would encourage renewable energy development, it also calls for battery storage, electric vehicle charging stations, energy efficiency, demand side management, rate design and flexibility in adoption of new technologies.

Also, unlike the voter initiative, the plan would include nuclear generation in meeting its clean energy goal. Arizona is home to the 4,003-MW Palo Verde nuclear plant. He is unsure that the plan and Proposition 127 can coexist, Tobin stated.

In an Oct. 4 letter to fellow commissioners, Tobin said his proposed scheme, designed to prevent utilities from adding excess power capacity, is achievable because of the amount of work accomplished in related dockets that will help achieve the plan's goals. The plan and Prop. 127 both would strongly affect the future operations of Arizona's major utilities, including Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary Arizona Public Service Co. and Fortis Inc. subsidiaries Tucson Electric Power Co. and UNS Electric Inc., and would also indirectly influence Salt River Project, which is not under the commission's jurisdiction.

Time is short for adopting the plan, Tobin said, because the commission's moratorium on construction of new gas plants expires in January 2019, and the utilities must have certainty and guidance for their investments after that date. Saying they relied too heavily on gas-fired generation, the commission rejected the integrated resource plans submitted by utilities earlier this year. The companies are now waiting on the outcome of the voter initiative and for the commissioners to provide direction, Tobin said.

The commission opened a rulemaking docket for preparation of the plan on Aug. 14 after Tobin called for the effort in June following the commission's rejection of the utility integrated resource plans. Salt River Project plans to shut down the Navajo coal-fired plant and replace it with gas-fired capacity. APS had planned to add nearly 5,400 MW of new gas-fired capacity.