Ballot initiative aims to increase Arizona’s use of renewable energy

Source: By Ryan Randazzo, Arizona Central • Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2018

Renewable-energy advocates are hoping to ask voters to increase Arizona’s use of solar, wind and other alternative-energy resources with a ballot measure.

A coalition of health-care providers and other organizations plans to launch the initiative Tuesday.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona filed paperwork with the Arizona secretary of state on Friday. They hope voters will require electric companies to get half their power supply from renewables by 2030, which would be a significant jump from the existing standard.

“Using more clean energy will result in cleaner air and better health for our children and families,” Dr. John Swagert, CEO of Mountain Park Health Center in Phoenix, said in a prepared statement. “Arizona has high rates of respiratory ailments like asthma, and less air pollution from coal-burning power plants will mean fewer cases of childhood asthma and lung and heart disease.”

To get on the ballot, the groups will need to gather more than 150,000 signatures by July 5.

What is the existing standard?

The Arizona Corporation Commission regulates utilities in Arizona.

In 2006, commissioners passed the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff. It requires electric companies to get 15 percent of their power from renewables by 2025, and big companies such as Arizona Public Service Co. are on track to do that.

The existing rule also allows utilities to charge a tariff to customers to pay a premium for renewable energy compared with traditional natural-gas and coal power plants.

Arizona’s standard is lower than that of all neighboring states. California’s is the highest, with a 50 percent goal by 2030. Others include:

  • Nevada: 25 percent by 2025.
  • Utah: A voluntary goal of 20 percent by 2025.
  • Colorado: 30 percent by 2020.
  • New Mexico: 20 percent by 2020.

Salt River Project, the second-largest utility in Arizona, does not have to follow the state standard because it is a political subdivision of the state and is run by an elected board of directors.

SRP seeks to get 20 percent of its energy supply from “sustainable” sources by 2020.

On its face, that looks higher than the state standard. But SRP includes energy efficiency, which neither Arizona nor neighboring states include in their standards, in its goal.

Utilities such as APS face a separate standard of 22 percent by 2020 for efficiency, which includes things such as subsidizing low-watt light bulbs and helping customers buy less wasteful appliances.

It is unclear if the ballot initiative intends to capture SRP in the higher standard.

Who is behind the initiative?

One of the groups involved is NextGen America, a political group that focuses on climate change. One of its main issues has been the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The group was founded by philanthropist Tom Steyer.

The groups supporting the initiative said the increased use of renewable energy will reduce coal and natural-gas burning, create new jobs, protect scenic areas and diversify the power supply, making it more resilient.

The ballot-initiative announcement comes shortly after Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin announced a proposal to increase the commission’s requirement for renewables. He proposes including nuclear energy in the definition of “clean” energy and raising the standard to 80 percent by 2050.

The ballot initiative would not include nuclear power and would require a much faster ramp-up in renewables.