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Renewables ballot initiative appears headed to Ariz. voters

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Renewables ballot initiative appears headed to Ariz. voters

Arizona voters appear poised to decide whether to require the state's electric utilities to source half of their retail power sales from renewable energy by 2030, after a campaign to put the initiative on the November ballot filed petitions with more than twice the number of necessary signatures.

"It is long past time for Arizonans to take up their own energy destiny," initiative backer Kris Mayes, a professor at Arizona State University and former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, said July 5 at a rally in Phoenix after the group Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona turned in more than 480,000 signatures to the office of the Arizona Secretary of State. The state must still certify the signatures.

Mayes, who was a commissioner in 2006 when Arizona set its current renewable energy standard of 15% by 2025, said boosting the mandate would help to lower electric rates, due to the reduced cost of solar power, while creating "tens of thousands of new jobs."

Arizona Public Service Co., the state's largest utility, in an email called the initiative "irresponsible and bad for customers." The Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary also criticized the measure as an out-of-state effort funded by California environmentalist and billionaire Tom Steyer through his NextGen Climate Action group.

Perhaps sensitive to such criticism, Alejandra Gomez, co-chair of Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the group that submitted the petitions for the ballot measure, highlighted the measure's mostly local supporters, including the Arizona Democratic Party, the Arizona League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. The Natural Resources Defense Council also backs the proposal.

Citing "unprecedented opposition" from APS and other utilities, the ballot initiative would give voters "the choice between the dirty energy of the past, like coal and gas, and the clean energy of the future like solar and wind," Gomez said. APS, however, has warned voter approval could force it to shutter its 4,003-MW Palo Verde nuclear plant, the nation's largest nuclear facility and one of its largest sources of carbon-free electricity.

The group's submission came the same day Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin planned to file a draft of his "energy modernization plan," which calls for at least 80% zero-emission power by 2050, including renewables and nuclear energy, in addition to 3,000 MW of energy storage by 2030, the creation of a "clean peak" target, investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and improvements in Arizona's long-term power planning. Tobin has asked the commission to consider the draft at its July 19 meeting.