Ariz. group: Phone records show close ties between head regulator, APS

Dive Brief:

  • A nonprofit group called The Checks and Balances Project has uncovered what it believes is evidence of improperly close ties between the state's former top regulator and its largest investor owned utility, Arizona Public Service Co.
  • The group says Bob Stump, who last year was chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, sent hundreds of texts to utility officials and pro-utility candidates in the weeks leading up to the primary election last August for two ACC seats.
  • Stump told The Arizona Republic that the communications were not about the election, and said the group had cherry-picked a few text messages to distort the story.

Dive Insight:

It's just metadata at this point, but The Checks and Balances Project (CBP) says the volume and timing of text messages between then-Chairman Stump and officials at APS, as well as two pro-utility candidates for seats at the ACC, could show that Stump violated election laws and has been too cozy with officials at the company he was charged with regulating.

Both of the winning ACC candidates, Republican Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, ran against pro-solar candidates. Stump sent almost 200 texts to the candidates combined, according to CBP's analysis.

Stump also sent more than 50 text messages to Barbara Lockwood, the general manager for regulatory policy at APS, in the weeks leading up to the primary. And Stump also sent texts to Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which spent money helping Forese and Little get elected.

"When you look at the text messages, and how they are grouped around the election, and grouped with Stump's communications with Forese, Little and Mussi ... it raises questions," Scott Peterson, executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, told The Arizona Republic.

Stump defended his communications, saying he has many friends in the industry and cannot be expected to shut himself off every time there is an election. 

"I would note that Checks and Balances, a left-wing, dark-money group, is cherry-picking text logs to paint an absurdly distorted picture," he told the Republic.

The Checks and Balances Project said it is "scrutinizing the actions of public utility commissioners in several states," saying they believe electric utilities in other areas are "now attempting to replicate Arizona’s historic rooftop solar fee in a wave of attacks on net metering."

APS is considering higher fees on solar customers, possibly as much as $21 per month, up from $5 per month, and solar advocates say the fees would ruin rooftop solar's value proposition to consumers.

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Filed Under: Regulation & Policy Corporate News
Top image credit: Arizona Public Service