GOP lawmakers take aim at Arizona renewable energy standards

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FILE - In this July 28, 2015, file photo, electricians, Adam Hall, right, and Steven Gabert install solar panels on a roof for Arizona Public Service company in Goodyear, Ariz. As states across the U.S. West beef up their renewable energy mandates, a push to do so in Arizona has been met by fierce resistance from the Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX – As states across the U.S. West beef up their renewable energy requirements, a push to do so in Arizona has been met by fierce resistance from the Republican governor and GOP-dominated Legislature, which are looking to strip elected utility regulators of their power to set energy policy in one of the nation’s sunniest states.

Utilities are well on their way to meeting Arizona’s 15% renewable energy mandate by 2024. Environmentalists worry that progress would stall if power companies aren’t forced to keep installing green technologies at a time when Arizona faces more extreme heat from climate change.

“Why in the world would the Legislature want to get in the way of something that is so clearly good for our economy and benefits the climate as well as air quality, saves water?” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter.

A bill to designate the Arizona Legislature as the sole authority over energy policy was on a fast track, quickly clearing the House before stalling in the Senate. Lawmakers are still in session, and it could get new life any time.

Republican lawmakers supporting the move say it's more appropriate for the 90 members of the Legislature to set energy policy than the five members of the Arizona Corporation Commission. Some have questioned the push to move away from fossil fuels, saying such mandates lead to higher utility bills.

“The Legislature is the best venue for setting energy policy due to our broader representation of the people and our deliberative process is far more transparent,” said Sen. Sine Kerr, a Republican who sponsored one of two bills to shift authority to lawmakers.

Regardless of who has the authority, utilities should have “the flexibility to do what they do best, and that is to provide energy to all of Arizona without costly and restrictive mandates that remove certain energy sources from the mix,” Kerr said.

Critics counter that the state Constitution charges the Arizona Corporation Commission with regulating utilities and it's made up of elected officials who are deeply enmeshed in energy issues. Energy standards are more commonly adopted by the nation's legislatures, but advocates for renewables say few states have elected regulators like Arizona.