- In a new twist to an ongoing saga, two former Arizona Corporation Commissioners and residential solar installer Sunrun filed complaints last week against three sitting commissioners requesting that they recuse themselves from weighing in on a proposed grid access fee from one of the state's major power producers, the Arizona Republic reported.
- The complaints center around ongoing allegations of bias, "dark money" and a cozy relationship between utilities and the ACC.
- The new complaints means all five of the commissioners currently face challenges to their ability to execute their operations objectively, even as some members of the ACC attempt to police campaign funding to commission candidates in upcoming elections.
The latest challenges add fuel to the ongoing battle between utilities and rooftop solar advocates in Arizona. The state has been heavily criticized for its utilities' unfriendly solar policies by solar advocates, who have leveled their harshest criticism at the Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), a political heavyweight in the state.
Now two former commissioners are weighing in on the heated debate. Bill Mundell and Renz Jennings, a Republican and Democrat respectively, worry the potential conflict-of-interest will compromise the commission's integrity.
Solar installer Sunrun Inc. and former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, an attorney representing former commissioners Bill Mundell and Renz Jennings, filed the complaints on Sept. 17. Both former commissioners' terms finished well before the arguments over net metering and grid maintenance gathered momentum in 2013.
Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little, both Republicans, have been accused of accepting $3.2 million in so-called dark money — money funneled through nonprofits who do not have to disclose their donors — from Pinnacle West, APS's parent company, during their election last year. APS allegedly funneled $2 million to Forese and Little through Save Our Future Now and the Free Enterprise Club, both social welfare groups exempt from disclosing donors, media outlets reported.
A separate filing seeks to disqualify Commissioner Bob Stump for unfavorable remarks made on social media and in media outlets on solar users depending on solar subsidies.
Hugh Hallman, who filed the complaints for the former commissioners, used a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case to underscore the allegations of bias against Little and Forese. In that case, the court held that a West Virginia judge elected with $3 million from a coal executive could not preside over a key court case. Hallman said it doesn't matter if the judge was actually biased; the appearance of bias overrides any perception of objective decision-making.
APS has neither denied nor confirmed involvement in funding Forese's and Little's campaigns last year, instead labeling the continuous controversy as a "non-stop propaganda war" from solar advocates aiming to discredit the utility.
ACC Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith and fellow commissioner Bob Burns submitted a draft proposal earlier this month before the full commission calling for a policy prohibiting campaign donations from utilities to ACC candidates or any perception of bias. The policy would hinder the ability of "public service corporations and unregulated entities" to make campaign donations supporting or opposing candidates. Both Burns and Bitter Smith are up for reelection in 2016, and both also face conflict-of-interest allegations in regards to past lobbying activities.