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Voters pull plug on reshaping Az's energy future

PHOENIX – Arizona voters have rejected Proposition 127. The initiative would have required the state’s regulated utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Arizona’s current renewable portfolio standard will remain in place. That standard, set by the Arizona Corporation Commission, requires the state’s 16 regulated electricity providers to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2025.

Supporters argued it was time to take advantage of one of the state’s most abundant resources: sunshine. Opponents said new energy mandates would result in higher costs for ratepayers.

In an interview with Fox News, Paul Bracken, a Yale University political science and management professor, said the state could be a testing ground for how other states deal with renewable energy standards.

“People who would like more sustainable energies are using the threat of a ballot initiative to put pressure on the state institutions of government and on the power companies themselves to change,” Bracken said. “I think one of the arguments in Arizona, is that for a state with its position in sustainable resources like solar it’s gone very, very slow in terms of particular solar but also wind — it hasn’t done as much as it should – so it could really influence Arizona Public Service and others to move in this direction.”

In an interview earlier this fall with Cronkite News, Lincoln Davies, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies renewable energy policy, said propositions like Prop. 127 are not unique to Arizona.

“The idea of these laws was to drive down the cost of renewables over time so that they could be scaled up as technologies and be used across the grid,” Davies said.

Similar initiatives are on the ballot in Nevada and Washington. Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards that mandate electric utilities generate a certain amount of total energy from renewable sources. California and Hawaii share the highest future requirements: 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

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The two groups for and against Prop. 127 spent millions of dollars for campaign signs and radio and television ads to get their messages out.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona raised more than $23 million to support Prop. 127, according to Ballotpedia. NextGen Climate Action, an environmental advocacy organization founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer, provided 95 percent of group’s funds.

Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is largely backed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest provider of electricity, and has raised more than $31 million to oppose Prop. 127, according to Ballotpedia.

Davies said it’s not surprising to see large utility companies spending millions of dollars to oppose mandates such as Prop. 127.

“As the grid has started to evolve,” he said, “as solar has become a really powerful influence in terms of how electricity is getting produced in the United States, you’re starting to see pushback from a lot of utilities and other political constituencies in different states against some of these measures, especially as they become more stringent.”

The road to the polls has been mired in controversy. Arizonans for Affordable Electricity filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court in July, claiming a number of signature-gathering violations by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. Lawyers for the group also said the initiative’s language about “clean” energy was misleading to petition-signers.

Judge Daniel Kiley in August rejected arguments to remove Prop. 127 from the ballot. The lawsuit was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which also sided with the defendants, effectively keeping the initiative on the ballot and giving Arizona voters a say in the state’s renewable energy makeup.

“Most Arizonans understand that solar could be a really huge resource here,” said DJ Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. “And right now, we’re just not doing it.”

In September, Prop. 127 was again the center of debate. Initiative supporters argued that language added by Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office to the initiative’s explanation in the voter ballot guide, which the Secretary of State’s Office creates, could make the measure less likely to pass, according to azcentral.com.

The language involved potential costs to consumers. The phrase “irrespective of cost” was added by the Attorney General’s Office regarding utilities meeting the new energy standards. One official from the Secretary of State’s Office called the added language “eyebrow raising,” according to the azcentral.com article, because that language was not part of the ballot measure itself.

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Brandon Quester/Cronkite News

Prop. 127 would have required the state’s regulated utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030.