- State legislators in Arizona on Friday approved a bill to ease conflict-of-interest rules for a state utility regulator who had been barred from voting on solar issues due to a family connection, the Arizona Daily Sun reports. The bill had already been approved by the state Senate.
- The bill allows Andy Tobin, recently appointed to the Arizona Corporation Commission, to not recuse himself from proceedings involving SolarCity and other solar companies. After he was appointed, it was discovered Tobin’s son-in-law is a SolarCity inventory control specialist and a commission attorney directed him to not involve himself in related dockets.
- The new law allows commissioners to vote on matters pertaining to companies for which their relatives work if the company has more than 25 employees and the relative is not in management or have budget authority. Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who appointed Tobin, is expected to sign it.
The ACC regulates the state’s utilities, not private sector businesses like SolarCity, but the installer has been an important factor in many recent controversial decisions made by the five person commission and Tobin has had to recuse himself from pivotal recent proceedings involving solar rate design.
The conflict-of-interest concern arose in part because Tobin could be involved in major solar decisions facing the commission. The ACC is currently hearing a contentious rate case for UES Electric and a solar cost-benefit proceeding involving Arizona Public Service, among other distributed energy issues.
Decisions in such proceedings can have a profound impact on both utility and solar company finances. When Nevada regulators slashed net metering rates in December, for instance, several major installers, including SolarCity, shuttered operations and left the state.
Opponents of the conflict-of-interest bill have decried the measure. In a March letter, two Democratic hopefuls for the ACC pushed Tobin to resign, saying the courts could take issue with the plan for a Republican-controlled legislature to rewrite rules for a GOP gubernatorial appointee.
Tobin himself was appointed to fill an ACC chair opened by a similar controversy. Last year, commission chair Susan Bitter Smith was pushed to resign after the state Attorney General filed a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court arguing her work with the Southwest Cable Communications Association represented a conflict with the commission’s responsibility to regulate telecommunications companies. She stepped down soon after.