The APS Red Rock Solar Facility.
Historic ACC decision steers utilities toward clean energy
For the first time ever, the Arizona Corporation Commission has voted not to acknowledge the energy resource plans of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities, Arizona Public Service (APS), Tucson Electric Power (TEP), and UNS Electric (UNSE), citing concern that they rely too heavily on natural gas and make unrealistic predictions about growth in energy demand.
In additional votes late in the day Tuesday that had broad or unanimous support of the five Commissioners, the ACC also placed a nine-month pause on any new gas development by the utilities and said their next resource plans need to include options emphasizing clean resources like renewables, energy storage, and energy efficiency — and plans that are in line with Commissioner Tobin’s proposed Energy Modernization Plan calling for 80 percent clean energy by 2050.
“This is a thoughtful decision from the ACC that signals that Arizona utilities should invest in a modern, clean, efficient electric grid,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Climate Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates. “A cleaner energy mix not only reduces water use and air pollution, but also can save Arizona customers money.”
An analysis of the APS resource plan filed with the ACC by consumer and business groups and clean energy experts found that avoiding about 4,000 of the 5,500 megawatts of new gas-fired power APS had planned — and meeting energy needs instead with additional renewables, energy storage and efficiency — would save customers roughly $300 million. In its 15-year resource plan turned aside by the ACC, the utility had planned virtually no new utility scale renewables.
“It’s encouraging to see the ACC hearing our concerns that APS should be planning for utilizing solar power generated in our Navajo communities,” said Tony Skrelunas, Vice President of DinéHózhó, a Navajo sustainable business enterprise. “Our communities have ensured the prosperity of Arizona and APS through the provision of our water, land, and coal resources. Now that coal is closing, we are working hard with our communities to create meaningful alternatives like solar that local communities can be proud of. As we work to build these projects, future power purchase assurance will be critical especially from Arizona utilities that we have provided so much to. I applaud our Navajo chapter officials from Lechee, Coalmine, and Hardrock who made the trip to Phoenix and the ACC hearing to let the distinguished leaders know of our community efforts.”
Hundreds of comments to the ACC against a heavy new reliance on gas — which would saddle residential and business customers with decades of costs and risks of higher or volatile prices — came in from a wide range of communities, including Navajo, faith, business, clean energy, consumer, and environmental.
“The unprecedented level of public engagement in this process underscores that Arizona is a state where people want clean energy and energy efficiency, and all the benefits they bring,” said Ellen Zuckerman with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “The ACC’s decision to start getting the utilities better in sync with public appetite for cleaner energy resources and cost savings is good to see.”