APS, SolarCity pour money into Arizona regulatory election

Dive Brief:

  • Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service, has formed a group (AZ Coalition for Reliable Electricity) aimed at spending $1 million in the upcoming election for Arizona Corporation Commission regulators, Phoenix Business Journal reports. 
  • In a statement, Pinnacle West said SolarCity's financial backing of candidates spurred the utility to "take action" despite calls from current Arizona Corporation Commission Robert Burns for utilities and solar companies to stay out the race.
  • A spokesman from the coalition told the news outlet that the group plans to back Burns, current commissioner Andy Tobin and Boyd Dunn, all Republicans. SolarCity also backs Burns, along with two Democratic candidates.

Dive Insight:

Stakes have never been higher over the future of solar in Arizona. The ACC is tackling a widely-watched value of solar docket as well as a couple of rate cases that could set precedents beyond its borders for how solar is quantified and compensated. 

With that in mind, the solar sector and utilities are openly pouring money into the election despite calls from elected officials to stay out of the race in hopes of avoiding the controversy that stemmed from dark money involvement in the 2014 cycle. 

"With SolarCity now putting a massive infusion of spending into the campaign, we are compelled to take action. We have created a political effort called the AZ Coalition for Reliable Electricity to stand up for the best interests of Arizona consumers," Pinnacle said in a statement to the news outlet.

Phoenix Business Journal estimates SolarCity's spending to stand at $4.5 million thus far as the nation's largest rooftop solar developer backs Burns and Democratic candidates Bill Mundell and Tom Chabin. The nation's leading rooftop solar installer has also admitted to funding an outside watchdog group targeting utility regulators, though it says contributions have ceased.

Interestingly, both Pinnacle West and SolarCity are financially supporting Burns who has usually sided with the solar sector during regulatory hearings. He also previously voiced frustration with Pinnacle West for not disclosing political contributions. That led to Burns subpoenaing the company for its financial records over the 2014 election cycle.

A number of critics have accused APS of funneling dark money to political groups supporting the campaigns of current regulators Doug Little and Tom Forese in 2014, but the utility has neither denied or confirmed those accusations. Even so, those allegations have continued to dog the ACC, leading Burns to push for an investigation of the current ratemaking process this year. His colleagues eventually nixed his request in a 3-1 vote. 

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Filed Under: Solar & Renewables Regulation & Policy
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