- The former Arizona state lawmaker nominated by the governor to fill a vacant seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission has conflict of interest which will keep him from voting in proceedings involving SolarCity, the nation's largest rooftop solar installer, the Arizona Republic reports.
- Former State Rep. Andy Tobin, tapped by Gov. Doug Ducey in December, has a son-in-law who works at the solar installer and will recuse himself from votes involving the company. Ducey is standing by his choice despite what could be a substantial number of recusals due to SolarCity's large presence in the state's solar market.
- The vacancy on the regulatory board was created when then-Chairwoman Susan Bitter Smith announced she would resign in December. The state Attorney General's Office had filed a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court seeking her removal from office, arguing that her work as head of the Southwest Cable Communications Association conflicted with the state's conflict-of-interest law.
Andy Tobin was sworn in this week to serve on the ACC, but before the ceremony he made an announcement: He will not be voting when a case involves SolarCity, where his son-in-law works in inventory control.
"I just won't be voting when the [commission] lawyer says, 'You have a conflict,'" Tobin said, according to the Arizona Republic. "There could be a lot of recusals."
The Arizona Republic noted that any recusals could leave the Commission in a deadlock vote of 2-2. In 2013, the first round of decisions involving fees on rooftop solar users from the Arizona Public Service came down to a 3-2 vote.
Gov. Ducey was not aware of the conflict when he tapped Tobin, the Republic reported, but has indicated through a spokesman he is standing behind his choice. Ducey has selected Tobin to fill a number of roles in the past, including serving as director of the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures, director of the Arizona Department of Insurance, and interim director of the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions.
SolarCity is involved in most of the ACC decisions surrounding electrical utilities, the Republic reports, since utilities are mandated to get a portion of their resource power mix from renewable energy. The largest rooftop solar developer in the country and the state, SolarCity was also involved in the high-profile tussle with APS's request to raise a grid access fee from $5 to $21 on distributed solar users this year.
The solar developer also recently disclosed it has contributed to a non-profit group that supports the Checks and Balances project, a watchdog group that has questioned the relationships between utilities and regulators in the state.
After the ACC approved a $5 monthly fee for solar users following 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 the group pushed for the release of Commissioner Bob Stump's text messages.
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. 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.
Tobin will serve until a replacement is elected this November.