Opinion and Facts by Albert Vetere Lannon
I don’t watch much television, but joined my mate one recent afternoon and was immediately hit with slick commercials attacking Arizona’s Proposition 127, the initiative that would require power companies to derive 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030, 12 years from now. The ads shrieked that consumer costs would hit the ceiling, with a thousand dollar-a-year-increase, a powerful inducement to vote no for those middle- and working-class voters whose wages have been stagnant for years. Here in the Southern Arizona summer my A/C use drove my Trico bill up to a record $359 last month, and that’s a lot for a fixed-income senior. But that thousand-dollar pitch didn’t ring true to me, so I did some research.
Current law sets a goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2025. That answers one friend’s concern about Arizonans not liking being told what we “have to do.” The law already says what we “have to do” and Prop. 127 simply amends that to have the power companies make a bigger effort, with annual oversight by the elected Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC). Twenty other states already have higher renewable energy standards than Arizona, including neighboring Nevada and New Mexico, so it’s not like we are looking at an impossible burden. Those stats come from a National Electric Rate Study done by the Lincoln, Nebraska, Electric System.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tells us that residential rates nationally went from an average of $12.55 per kilowatt hour in 2016 to $12.97 in 2018, an increase of 37 cents. EnergySage.com says that rates increased about 24 percent over the past ten years, about $75 since 2008. The current national average monthly cost of electricity is $139.98.
According to the EIA and ClimateCentral.org’s review of electricity rates in the “Mountain States” Arizonans pay an average of $124 monthly for our electricity. Nevadans pay $120, and New Mexicans pay $128, even with higher renewable energy standards already in place. Montanans, also with energy standard goals already met, pay $117/month.
I calculated my own average from October 2017 to September 2018’s big bill, one year’s worth of electricity, and came up with $141, just $1 off the national average. Trico, by the way, is a co-op with an elected Board of Directors who have chosen not to oppose Prop. 127. The evidence for the hysterical political ads simply does not exist in the real world.
What does exist in the real world is the misuse of customer dollars by big private power companies for this political campaign, and for bringing in “dark money” to elect pliable regulators. The Arizona Public Service Electric Company, APS, was widely reported to have pumped over $3 million in anonymous money to defeat two pro-solar Republicans running for the Arizona Corporation Commission two years ago. There’s something wrong with regulated companies buying votes for their regulators. APS’s holding company, Pinnacle West, is putting $11 million into the No on 127 campaign.
But here’s the rub: Pinnacle West distributed $78 million to its shareholders on one day and petitioned the ACC for a consumer rate increase the next. That is despite declaring profits of $488 million! Now Tucson Electric Power has joined the No campaign, announcing just days later that they are reducing the credits given for new customers with solar who use less than they generate.
So why are the big power companies so opposed to renewable? Former ACC member Kris Mayes, quoted by Tim Stellar in the Arizona Daily Star, said that that the utilities are betting heavily on natural gas, whose production is more expensive than solar or wind power. The cost of utility-scale solar has fallen 77 percent since 2009, wind, 38 percent, and the cost of battery storage fell 79 percent between 2010 and 2017.
A stronger renewable standard in Arizona lowers costs because it shifts investment from costly new natural gas power plants, to low-cost solar and solar-plus storage. The Yes on 127 campaign cites a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council showing that Arizonans can save a total of over $4 billion if Prop. 127 is implemented. And not only is natural gas investment more costly than wind and solar, it has its own problems. Fracking creates earthquake activity and contaminates drinking water aquifers.
In Georgia and in Florida Green Tea Coalitions have formed to take on their own big power companies. The Tea Party, Christian Coalition, Libertarians, NAACP, Occupy Atlanta and Sierra Club found common ground. The Green Tea Coalition is led by Debbie Dooley, founder of the Atlanta Tea Party. Dooley told Fox News in 2015, “Being good stewards of our environment, craving energy freedom and choice is not a leftist issue. It’s not a radical right issue. It’s an American issue.”
Dooley, who heads Conservatives for Energy Freedom and also sits on the Tea Party Patriots Board of Directors, explained in another interview that she supports solar energy in part because of her opposition to government subsidies for big energy and nuclear and coal power. Instead, Dooley insists, the government should end all subsidies to energy corporations and let the market choose. As solar prices continue to decrease year after year, she believes that solar is on track to become the most affordable option for consumers. According to Conservapedia.com an initial battle with Koch Brothers-owned Georgia Power resulted in a Green Tea Coalition victory allowing 10 kilowatts of power to be installed by third parties on homes and businesses.
Green Tea Coalitions are a model that Arizonans of all political persuasions might want to look at to face off against the big-money power of Pinnacle West and APS. While the No campaign tells us how bad California is, the fact is that Arizona, along with the other Inter-Mountain West states, have little in common with the West Coast. Sure, electricity is more expensive in California, but so is gasoline and rent, and buying a house – and wages are also higher. It’s a different world.
Our state has more sunlight than most of us can bear. Let’s put it to good use and cut way back on fossil fuels which are A) going to run out some day, and B) messing with air quality, and C) contributing to climate change – which is giving us record heat resulting in ever-higher use of electricity to stay cool.
I live in Picture Rocks, which is in the Avra Valley west of Tucson. Tucson Water has settling ponds for CAP water to recharge the aquifer in our valley. Imagine if those ponds were covered with solar panels. That would not impact the already-unnatural view, but would generate a lot of power, and would reduce evaporation from the Colorado River water being stored there. That could even lead to reduced costs to consumers for both water and electricity. But I’m just speculating, not making any promises.
Vote as you please, but please vote – and vote on the basis of facts, not expensive scare propaganda or false promises. Vote your own conscience. You and I are intelligent enough to sort things out and make up our own minds without being told how to vote by me, APS, ADI, or anyone else. I did the research, and I’m voting Yes on 127.