UPDATE: Nov. 16, 2020: In a 4-1 vote on Nov. 13, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) gave final approval to requirements for utilities to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Last minute negotiations meant the commission did not approve requirements for specific amounts of renewable energy to be sourced. Removing the renewables requirement will help ensure the new rules pass a final vote by the commission next year.
- Arizona regulators on Thursday approved a series of amendments laying out new clean energy requirements for utilities, including a mandate to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.
- The 3-2 vote by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is a major step forward, but a final vote is still required and clean energy advocates caution it is too soon to celebrate. "It's a good step forward, but we're not there yet. ... There's still quite a bit of process," said Adam Stafford, Clean Energy Program staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates.
- The decarbonization plan includes interim targets of 50% by 2032 and 75% by 2040, with a requirement for utilities to supply 50% renewable energy by 2035. Regulators also passed a new battery target that includes a carve-out for distributed storage.
Arizona regulators first tried to vote on new clean energy rules in July, but that meeting broke down amid arguments over how to consider competing proposals. Since then, three regulators have found common ground on a series of targets but observers warn there is still a final vote required and a subsequent rulemaking process to navigate — along with the potential that Tuesday's election could disrupt the process.
Thursday's vote was "an exciting and important step but they're not done yet," said Stafford. And "there's probably a good chance some of this could get changed, depending on [the] outcome of the election."
Two Republican commissioners — Chairman Robert Burns and Boyd Dunn — voted in favor of the new clean energy requirements along with Democrat Sandra Kennedy. Republicans Justin Olson and Lea Márquez Peterson voted against the amendments due to cost and other concerns.
However, Arizona voters on Tuesday will choose replacements for both Burns, who has termed out, and Dunn, who did not make it onto the ballot. Márquez Peterson must also win her seat, after being appointed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey last year.
But the current slate of commissioners is still expected to hold a final vote on the new targets. Clean energy advocates say that vote is expected sometime in November and will kick off a rulemaking and hearing process. Following that, the new commission would need to vote again before the rules can go into effect
"I am glad the commission was finally able to look past partisan politics to support science and economics-based policy," Kennedy said in a statement. "This vote is just the beginning of the important work that the commission needs to do to address harmful climate change impacts."
Should Democrats take over the ACC, Kennedy would be the party's senior regulator and could lead the commission. Observers say Olson is likely to lead the commission should Republicans remain in control.
Olson has opposed cost increases he says would accompany the new decarbonization and renewables goals. He introduced an amendment to limit the amount ratepayers would be required to pay, but that proposal was voted down.
"The commission’s mandate should be for the utilities to invest in the renewable energy projects that are the most cost-effective way of meeting their customers’ energy needs," Olson said in a statement. "With such a rule, our utilities would increase their renewable energy portfolios without driving up rates."
Despite uncertainty over the clean energy rules, advocates celebrated the vote.
“Pursuing these meaningful carbon reductions ensures Arizona’s utilities move toward clean energy resources,” Amanda Ormond, director of the Western Grid Group, said in a statement. “The commission has taken a major step."
The commission "should be commended for coming together in bipartisan fashion to modernize Arizona’s energy rules and move the state toward a carbon-free future. ... We encourage commissioners to schedule a final vote as soon as possible,” Ellen Zuckerman, director of the utility program for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said in a statement.