Arizona Public Service has spent nearly $11 million since last autumn to combat a renewable energy ballot proposal in its state, according to a new report from a liberal watchdog group.
APS shelled out $6.4 million in the last three months to prevent the measure, which targets 50% renewable energy by 2030, from reaching the ballot, the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) reports. Much of the money was spent on robocalls and paying petition collectors for the clean energy initiative to stop signing up voters, according to local reports.
APS declined to confirm or deny their spending, but one official for its parent company told Utility Dive the utility opposes the measure because it would raise prices for consumers and could push it to retire its Palo Verde nuclear plant. Despite APS efforts, the initiative qualified this month for the November ballot.
Arizona has some of the best solar energy potential in the nation and APS routinely touts its investments in the resource, but it is vehemently fighting a proposal that would set a 50% renewable energy standard in the state constitution.
“Anchoring a policy in the state constitution is not good policymaking and it really cuts against the market and the operating of the system as it exists in Arizona,” said Greg Bernosky, a former APS regulatory executive who now works at Pinnacle West, the utility’s parent. “All of us understand that more and more clean technology is going to be part of of the future, but anchoring something on a ballot in the constitution is just not the right way to make policy.”
Bernosky said he could not confirm the level of spending against the measure, but APS and Pinnacle West financial records shows that they funneled $10,736,300 through two political action committees, EPI reports.
Some of that money went to a firm that offered petition collectors for the ballot initiative thousands of dollars to stop signing on new voters for the measure, local TV station ABC 15 reports. The clean energy measure needed 225,000 signatures by July 5 to qualify for the November ballot.
APS opposes the initiative in large part because it believes reaching 50% renewable energy could force it to shut down its Palo Verde nuclear plant, Bernosky said. Nuclear plants generally produce consistent power around the clock, but cannot ramp up and down quickly enough to respond to changes in solar and wind output.
“We've had some studies show that there are material impacts to existing resources, in particular Palo Verde, the largest clean energy source in the state,” he said. “If you look at that in context with what's happening in the region, we don't think that the ballot measure is good policy.”
Renewable energy supporters question the APS position. Last month, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report finding that Palo Verde’s status as the largest nuclear plant in the nation would give it the economies of scale necessary to operate in a 50% renewables environment.
"The choice Arizonans face in November is whether to power their future with renewable energy or with carbon-emitting gas. The continued operation of Palo Verde is not threatened by a 50 percent RPS,” the report argued.
APS is no stranger to political spending. In 2016 it shelled out more than $4 million to elect Republican regulators to the Arizona Corporation Commission, its regulator, and in 2014, spent more than $3 million on the races for the five-member board.
But the utility is not the only entity spending on the ballot measure. The initiative is supported by billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, whose organization has committed more than $4 million to the race so far.