- Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Lea Márquez Peterson has proposed confidential “economic preparedness” meetings between regulators and the state’s business community in order to “make informed decisions that power and electrify our economy” and allow industry to openly share information.
- “As commissioners, we often hear about projects after the fact,” Márquez Peterson wrote in a June 7 letter to other commissioners. She has also opened a new docket to help the public track Arizona utilities’ progress to deliver 100% clean energy.
- Consumer advocates are concerned about the confidential briefings and say the ACC already has access to information about the state’s economy and infrastructure projects. “The general public should always retain the ability to be part of the process,” Arizona Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Diane Brown said in an email.
The new clean energy tracker aims to inform the public about Arizona’s clean energy progress, while confidential meetings with business leaders will keep regulators up to speed on future plans, according to Márquez Peterson.
“For too long, there has been an information gap between the information members of the business community know about our future infrastructure needs and the information we, as members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, receive to make informed decisions that power and electrify our economy,” Márquez Peterson wrote in her letter.
The meetings would be held annually or quarterly, according to her proposal, and would include top economists and business professionals in the state. But consumer advocates are wary of information not available to the public.
"The state's economic activities and outlook deserve a public hearing not a closed-door Commission meeting,” Brown said. “Commissioners have opportunities to gain comprehensive information to make informed decisions and the general public should always retain the ability to be part of the process."
But Márquez Peterson said some confidential sharing of information is necessary to bring larger businesses and industry to Arizona.
“I know there is a certain level of confidentiality that must be maintained to preserve and secure the deal,” Márquez Peterson said. “This is the kind of information that can only be obtained by signing a non-disclosure agreement. Business enterprise can’t get done without it.”
Márquez Peterson proposed the confidential meetings the day after the commission voted 3-2 to deny rehearing and reconsideration of Salt River Project’s proposed 820-MW expansion of the gas-fired Coolidge Generation Station.
Márquez Peterson, who voted to deny the project but did favor rehearing, said her proposal for the business meetings is not connected to the SRP case.
“The matters are unrelated,” Márquez Peterson said in an email. “However, to the extent the need for any past, present, or future project is based on projections of future economic growth, it is helpful to know what specific projects may be in the pipeline rather than only hearing broad brush generalizations that the economy in the area is growing.”
She added that nothing has changed in the case of SRP’s proposed Coolidge expansion. “I voted ‘No’ on the merits and ‘Yes’ on procedure. My vote on the merits didn’t change.”
SRP is still mulling whether to challenge the commission’s denial at the Arizona Superior Court. But the utility said in a statement that it is “encouraging to see the ACC is considering initiating more efforts to proactively understand what growth is on the horizon.”
SRP’s proposed 820-MW Coolidge expansion is needed to meet customer demand in 2024, the utility said. It is not clear if Márquez Peterson’s proposed confidential briefings would helped SRP in this case, however, “as even the intervenors did not contest that significant amounts of new power capacity is needed in the region,” the utility said.
Opponents of the expansion say SRP failed to consider clean energy options, and were concerned about the project’s impacts on the local community. SRP has plans to reduce carbon intensity more than 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
Arizona has not required utilities to achieve 100% decarbonization, but they are moving in that direction. Arizona Public Service has set a 100% clean energy goal by 2050, with a 2030 target of 65% clean energy.
The new clean energy tracker will be a place for the public and stakeholders “to find and track all information related to clean energy transition in Arizona,” Márquez Peterson wrote in a separate June 7 letter announcing the new docket.
“As a first step,” she asked APS, Tucson Electric Power, UNS Electric, and Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, to file their 2020 integrated resource plans in the docket. The commission does not regulate SRP rates or resource planning, but Márquez Peterson asked the utility to file a copy of its most recent clean energy plan and voluntary clean energy commitments in the docket.