- Susan Bitter Smith, the head of Arizona's utility regulatory commission, announced she would be resigning from her position yesterday, saying the ongoing controversy around her role at a cable group has prevented her from focusing on her job at the commission, the Arizona Republic reports.
- Her decision comes after the state Attorney General's Office filed a petition last month with the Arizona Supreme Court seeking to remove Bitter Smith from office, arguing that her work as head of the Southwest Cable Communications Association conflicted with the state's conflict-of-interest law.
- Bitter Smith's resignation is effective Jan. 4, a day before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear her case. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) will appoint her replacement to stand in until the 2016 elections.
Susan Bitter Smith was elected in 2012 right before the first round of debates focusing on net metering policy occurred, which has since become the dominating issue for the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC).
Her resignation comes as all five ACC commissioners now face challenges over "their bias, ethics or other alleged wrongdoing," the Arizona Republic reports. In particular, Bitter Smith faced allegations that she lobbies for one of the companies she regulates, the cable company Cox Communications, according to the AP.
After the commission approved a $5 monthly fee for solar users following heated and lengthy debates in 2013, the Checks and Balances Project filed public record requests with the ACC, targeting the regulators. They highlighted Susan Bitter Smith's work with the cable group, and pushed for the release of Commissioner Bob Stump's text messages.
Leading residential solar installer SolarCity recently admitted to funding the Checks and Balances Project through its donations to the non-profit Renew American Prosperity. The Checks and Balances Project claims SolarCity is "one of several" donors and has no say in the scope of their work.
Chandler attorney Tom Ryan filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office over Bitter Smith's involvement with the cable group, and the AG recently filed a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court to oust the ACC chairwoman from office. Bitter Smith labeled the controversy a "distraction" that made it hard for her to focus on her duties at the ACC.
"I feel that this distraction will continue," she said in explaining her resignation. "The public deserves the full attention of the commission and its staff to the upcoming body of work facing the commission. Despite my great love for this job and pride in our successes, my overriding goal is to insure that the work of the people gets done with the appropriate attention it deserves."
The Arizona Republic reports that she introduced the most favorable proposal for solar during the 2013 proceedings over net metering and solar charges, and was the only regulator not to call for extra charges to solar owners. Instead, she proposed an amendment that would acknowledge the existence of a cost shift, and kick-off workshops to better understand the value of solar on the grid.
In the latest round of debates over rooftop solar, Bitter Smith pushed for a cost-benefit analysis of solar to be conducted within a rate case proceeding after APS filed a request earlier this year asking to raise its $5 monthly fee to $21. Instead, the commissioners voted 4-1 to open a generic docket for a cost-benefit analysis after APS withdrew its request to raise its fee. Bitter Smith was the lone dissenting vote.
Bitter Smith would have faced re-election in 2016. There is currently no timeline as to when Gov. Ducey will appoint her replacement, who must come from within the Republican party.