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Arizona passes rule for 100% carbon-free electricity but extends timeline

The state will now aim to reach carbon-free electricity by 2070, not 2050.
By Emma Foehringer Merchant

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Arizona regulators voted on Wednesday to revive a suite of clean energy requirements that faced being scrapped earlier this month after years of work. But the compromise reached by the Arizona Corporation Commission will extend Arizona’s decarbonization timeline through 2070, rather than the 2050 deadline that was voted down early this month.

The vote comes after significant back-and-forth on the rules. Commissioners originally killed the proposal in early May, after which Commissioner Sandra Kennedy requested its reconsideration. This time around, commissioners voted to push the deadline by which the state’s utilities must reach carbon-free electricity to 2070, well after the 2040, 2045 or 2050 targets set by many other states and electric utilities.

The state will still be required to meet shorter-term targets, however, including a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2032 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, as well as other interim obligations.

Commissioners today demonstrated a serious commitment to modernizing Arizona’s energy rules and ensuring years of public participation were not lost,” said Ronny Sandoval, the Interior West regulatory director for clean energy advocacy organization Vote Solar, in a statement. Critically, these rules preserve the near-term commitments to carbon reductions.”

Clean-energy advocates largely applauded the bipartisan vote, although some expressed concerns that the deadline to transition to clean energy does not come soon enough. Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, has a voluntary target to reach 100 percent clean energy by midcentury. The utility said on Wednesday that it supports the vote.

The rules are not yet final. The approval pushes the rules into the supplemental rulemaking” phase, a process that requires the updated package to undergo public comment and another vote by the commission before being sent to the attorney general for review.

Depending on how quickly that process moves, it may mean that the final review of the rules will overlap with the state legislature’s next session. That concerns some advocates, because several bills introduced this year by Republican state legislators sought to disrupt the Arizona Corporation Commission’s decision-making authority on energy policy.

It would not surprise me if there [are] additional bills next session that looked kind of like what we saw this session,” said Autumn Johnson, government affairs manager at Western Resource Advocates, a conservation organization that supported the rules with a 2050 deadline. In a statement on the decision, the group said it is encouraged by the 2032 interim target but sees the 2070 deadline as falling far short of meeting the timeframe that scientists tell us is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Despite the years of public engagement that surrounded the energy rules, they’ve remained the focus of contention. Commissioners have voted at several points to advance the rules, but they hit a roadblock early this year when several proposed bills sought to strip some policymaking powers from the commission.

The bills that most worried groups such as Western Resource Advocates did not move forward. But in a meeting in early May, the commission approved several amendments that weakened the energy rules; ultimately, it voted to reject them altogether.

To see amendments offered to water down the rules just made it laughable,” Commissioner Kennedy, a Democrat who joined with two other commissioners to vote down the weakened rules, told Canary Media this month.

This time around, Kennedy and the two newest additions to the commission, Anna Tovar and Jim O’Connor, voted to move forward with the amended rules.

Commissioners Kennedy, Tovar and O’Connor deserve a standing ovation,” said Ellen Zuckerman, co-director of the utility program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, in a statement on the vote. The policy they advanced…will cut utility costs, eliminate wasteful energy use, and further investment and growth.”

In addition to requiring carbon-free electricity, the rules set out standards for energy storage and energy efficiency. The commission is expected to proceed with a final vote on the revamped rules this fall.

(Lead photo: Florian Schneider)

Emma Foehringer Merchant is a former staff writer for Canary Media. She has covered clean energy and climate change at publications including Greentech Media, Grist and The New Republic.