Full Senate to vote on taking power from regulators

By Howard Fischer| Capitol Media Services 

Rejecting arguments about economic development, clean air and even constitutional issues, a Senate panel voted along party lines March 31 to strip the Arizona Corporation Commission of its power to set energy policy for utilities. 

The 6-4 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee followed arguments by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, that it was wrong of the independently elected utility regulators to propose that half of the state’s energy be generated by carbon-free sources by 2035 and have power be totally carbon free by 2050. She said the commissioners failed to consider the cost implications for consumers of having to give up on coal- and gas-fired power plants. 

That contention was questioned by several witnesses, some of whom represent those involved in solar technology, who said that wind and solar are now less expensive. 

But the real question is whether lawmakers have the power to wrest from the regulators the authority to set energy policy. 

Griffin is relying on a ruling last year by the Arizona Supreme Court dealing with a fight over control of Johnson Utilities. 

In that ruling, the justices said the Arizona Constitution gives commissioners absolute power to set rates. But they said that authority over health and safety questions is shared with the Legislature. 

HB2248 amounts to the Legislature asserting what it says is its right to overrule the regulators. 

That legal conclusion, however, may not be entirely correct.

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