Deregulation key topic in Corporation Commission candidate debate

Republican candidates ( l-r) Nick Myers, Kevin Thompson, Horizon host Ted Simons, and   Kim Owens..Screenshot/KAET

By Ryan Randazzo |Arizona Republic

The main difference among Republicans running for the Arizona Corporation Commission this year is their position on whether the state should consider allowing out-of-state utilities to compete with the big electric companies.

Electric retail competition, or deregulation, was about the only place the candidates differed other than their experience during a Wednesday televised debate hosted by Arizona PBS and the Citizens Clean Election Commission.

Horizon host Ted Simons moderated the discussion.

The candidates are Kim Owens, a commissioner on the Arizona Power Authority, who has served in an elected position with Salt River Project; Nick Owens, who serves as a policy adviser to current Corporation Commissioner Justin Olson; and Mesa City Councilmember and former Southwest Gas employee Kevin Thompson.

Myers and Thompson, running as a team, support electric competition. Owens said it increases customer costs.

Protecting consumers from high utility costs is one of the primary duties of the Corporation Commission, a state office consisting of five elected officials who oversee utility rates and policies, pipeline safety, securities regulation and other issues.

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Two seats will be decided this year, so two of the Republican candidates will advance from the primary to the general election. In November, they will face Democrats Sandra Kennedy, a sitting commissioner running for another term, and Tempe City Council member Lauren Kuby.

The other seat to be determined in this year’s election is Olson’s. He is running for U.S. Senate.

Simons spent considerable time questioning the candidates about renewable energy requirements, although there seemed to be little space among the Republicans on that issue. All oppose the commission setting requirements that utilities get electricity from renewable sources.

But when he asked about utility deregulation that would allow companies to compete with Arizona electric companies, a few sparks flew in the PBS studio.

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