Newsletter: Showdown in Arizona

Arizona has managed to make utility regulation into a spectator sport.
By Julian Spector

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The arizona state flag
(Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash)

State utility regulators are the underappreciated gatekeepers of the shift to clean electricity, often cloaked in quasi-judicial mystery. But Arizona has managed to make utility regulation a spectator sport.

Arizona’s regulators compete for the role in statewide elections. That draws personalities from state politics and creates incentives to deliver tangible outcomes that they can message to voters for next time around. Throw in Arizona’s evolving political landscape and slam-dunk economics for solar power, and things can get spicy.

A few years ago, an all-Republican commission enacted a surprise moratorium on new gas plants, based on conservative principles of avoiding massive new investments while grid technologies are in a state of flux.

More recently, Arizona regulators moved to adopt a target of 100 percent carbon-free power, the first time such a policy would come from regulators rather than a governor or legislature.

But the commission pulled an about-face last week, first weakening and then shooting down the plan it had honed for years with considerable public buy-in. Emma Foehringer Merchant has the story.

This by no means ends Arizona’s energy transition, however. Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, already pledged to go 100 percent clean by 2050. Tucson Electric Power aims for 70 percent renewable power by 2035.

The shift to clean energy is happening because the power companies aren’t waiting for the government to lead.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.