Arizona regulators vote to hire lawyers in defense against APS political-spending case
- The Arizona Corporation Commission voted this week to hire five lawyers to defend four commissioners and the ACC itself against a lawsuit focused on utility campaign spending filed by the commission's fifth member.
- The Arizona Republic reports the commissioners voted to retain counsel after Commissioner Robert Burns added their names to a lawsuit.
- Burns has pressed for campaign finance records from the 2014 election cycle to be made public by Arizona Public Service and its parent company, Pinnacle West. Without support from his fellow commissioners, Burns subpoenaed financial records dating back to 2011.
The complicated legal wrangling amongst Arizona's utility regulators comes as the commission prepares to vote on a $95 million rate increase proposed by APS. That vote could come next week.
Burns has said other commissioners, Doug Little and Tom Forese, should recuse themselves from a vote on the APS rate increase because they may have benefited from political spending by the utility the 2014 regulatory election cycle.
Critics have claimed APS' parent company contributed $3.2 million to independent groups supporting the election bids of Forese and Little. The utility has neither confirmed nor denied the spending.
Burns last year pressed for the records to be made public, and subpoenaed Pinnacle West for its financial records dating back to 2011. At the time, Burns' fellow commissioners voted to defund his probe but the commission hired a lawyer to defend him against an APS lawsuit.
APS later withdrew its lawsuit, compelling the ACC to vote to fire Burns' lawyer. But when Burns added the names of his fellow commissioners to his Superior Court case, the commission voted to hire lawyers for four of its five members.
A possible vote on APS' new rates comes after an agreement reached earlier this year between the utility and solar advocates. The compromise stemmed from the ACC's decision to end the net metering policy in exchange for new compensation models based on utilities' avoided cost rates for other generation,
Under the compromise, new rooftop solar customers will be paid $0.129/kWh for exported energy, and the rate would decline no more than 10% annually. Customers would lock in their export rates for 10 years from the time they sign up. The agreement also includes a variety of rate design options for rooftop solar and default service customers, including time-of-use rates and residential demand charges.
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