Arizona rejects plan for 100% carbon-free electricity

Years of negotiation over Arizona’s clean energy rules come to naught in the eleventh hour.

Two tall saguaro cactuses in an Arizona desert landscape with mountains in the far distance
(Christoph von Gellhorn/Unsplash)
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Arizona’s years-long effort to shift its electricity generation to entirely carbon-free sources hit a significant roadblock on Wednesday when state regulators voted against rules requiring 100 percent clean energy by midcentury.

The Arizona Corporation Commission debated the proposed rules throughout the entirety of a full-day public meeting that stretched into the night, ultimately rejecting them after considering several amendments that weakened their requirements. Prior to Wednesday, the rules mandated 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 with interim carbon-emission reduction targets in 2032 and 2040.

This is a disappointing end to a three-year-long process,” said Shelby Stults, Arizona state policy lead at clean-energy trade association Advanced Energy Economy, in a statement. It is truly discouraging to see so much work toward broadly supported, bipartisan goals unravel in the last two hours of [the Arizona Corporation Commission’s] Open Meeting.”

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The rules would have placed the state among the ranks of numerous others that have committed to 100 percent clean energy, although Arizona was set to be the first to do so via an effort led by regulators. That led to some controversy earlier this year, as the state’s legislature considered several bills that would curtail the Corporation Commission’s ability to enact certain energy policies.

Though that proposed legislation hasn’t passed, clean-energy advocates worried it still had its intended effect: chilling the process of approving the energy rules in their final stages.

I do worry that it will diminish political will at the Corporation Commission to move forward on these rules,” Autumn Johnson, government affairs manager at conservation group Western Resource Advocates, told Canary Media before the final commission meeting on the rules.

The rules were supported by the state’s largest utilities, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power — both of which have set voluntary clean-energy targets that are more stringent than the state’s — as well as public health organizations, including the American Lung Association and clean-energy supporters such as Sunrun and Solar United Neighbors. All of those groups urged commissioners to pass the rules without changes on Wednesday. The Western States Petroleum Association spoke out against the rules at the meeting.

The commission’s five members were split Wednesday on whether to move forward with the rules as written or to consider changes. Democrats Anna Tovar and Sandra Kennedy were eager to move forward with a vote, pointing to deep public engagement in drafting the rules.

But the commission spent hours discussing amendments proposed by the three Republican commissioners: Justin Olson, Jim O’Connor and Chair Lea Márquez Peterson.

After the three Republican commissioners voted to change the mandates to goals,” Olson joined the ACC’s two Democrats to vote against the weaker rules.

That means Arizona’s renewable energy requirements remain at 15 percent of generation by 2025, a target set in 2006. Arizona reached 14 percent renewable generation in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The order as written was a major positive step forward for the state, but actions taken during the hearing significantly weakened the proposal and would have extended the timeline for up to another year, perpetuating the uncertainty surrounding the state’s regulatory environment,” said Nate Blouin, policy manager at Interwest Energy Alliance, a utility-scale renewables trade organization, in an email. The future of renewable energy in Arizona is less clear, as companies focus their attention on states with firm commitments to clean energy extending decades into the future.”

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.