The Arizona Corporation Commission performs an important role in state government. Keeping control of it in the hands of the voters sounds democratic. However, when a majority of the five-member panel can change in one election, there is potential for some bad outcomes. That said, on the whole, the commission has performed pretty well, with an example being oversight of the sale of Johnson Utilities to EPCOR in Pinal County.
The elections, of course, involve partisanship, which starts in the primaries. Years ago, voters tended to favor Democrats for setting their utility rates, but lately the commission has been mostly Republican, in keeping with state politics. Now the pendulum has swung back somewhat, and a second Democrat won a seat in November. Two Republicans also won: One is new and the other, Lea Marquez Peterson, had been appointed earlier to fill a vacancy. She is the new chairwoman. Gubernatorial appointments seem to happen fairly often due to resignations.
The commission last year, with a different makeup, established a requirement of no carbon emissions for electric generation by 2050, with some interim benchmarks. That decision, which does allow nuclear power and credit for new efficiency, toughened a renewable standard set by an all-Republican ACC in 2006.
Now a pair of bills introduced in the Legislature would roll back rules passed since June 2020 and give much of the power for such decisions to the Legislature. Because of the politics that would be involved, that is not a good idea. The ACC also is subject to politics and has in the past been criticized for the effort put into campaigns of commissioners, but they at least are focused on learning about the issues and making their decisions accordingly. Involving the Legislature could have the same effect as a recent ballot proposition, pushed by out-of-state interests, that would have imposed an agenda on ratepayers, to their detriment.
House Bill 2248 and Senate Bill 1175 are identical. There is a question of whether they violate the state Constitution. Lucid Motors, which has a new electric vehicle plant in Casa Grande, has weighed in against the bills.
An argument certainly could be made that the ACC members should be appointed rather than elected, but that is one for another day. Meanwhile, this legislative takeover is the wrong approach.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.