Democratic billionaire donor Tom Steyer is backing the effort to amend the Arizona Constitution to mandate that electricity providers generate at least half of their annual sales of electricity from renewable sources.
We know now what this proposed constitutional amendment might look like.
In a draft copy of the amendment obtained by Phoenix New Times, the “Renewable Energy Promotion Amendment” defines the affected utilities and explains how quickly utilities would need to ramp up renewable energy within their portfolio of annual electricity sales.
In the language of the amendment, affected utilities are defined as “a public service corporation serving retail electric load.” As a result, should the amendment be approved by Arizona voters in 2018, it’s unclear how the Salt River Project would be classified. Under the Arizona Corporation Commission's rules, SRP is a quasi-municipality that technically exists as a state agency, not a private corporation like utility giant Arizona Public Service.
The energy resources defined as nonrenewable in the language of the amendment include uranium, meaning that nuclear power would not go toward a utility’s renewable-energy quota.
This version of the proposed amendment would gradually ramp up the amount of renewable energy that the affected utilities would need to provide to customers. Beginning with at least 20 percent of a utility’s electricity sales for calendar years 2019 through 2021, the amendment would eventually require utilities to hit the 50 percent mark during 2028 and each year thereafter.
This being Arizona, solar energy would probably become a major component of the utilities' efforts to meet the 50 percent requirement under the amendment.
The language of the draft amendment also would create a renewable-energy credit program. Each renewable energy credit would equal one kilowatt hour of electricity derived from the eligible renewable sources. Utilities would be able to transfer these renewable-energy credits to another party or acquire them, signaling a kind of marketplace where utilities could potentially purchase credits to meet their quota.
The amendment’s backers at the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee need 225,963 signatures by next summer in order to make it onto the ballot in 2018. In 2006, the Arizona Corporation Commission put utilities on notice that they must generate 15 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Initiative spokesperson Pita Juarez declined to comment on the specifics of the draft amendment, saying that it is outdated and was likely prepared around six weeks ago. Attorneys for the initiative are finalizing the amendment for release shortly, Juarez said.
Tom Steyer is a high-profile Democratic donor who made his money on Wall Street. In addition to founding NextGen America, Steyer is a vocal Trump critic who is pushing for impeachment. In addition to backing the energy initiative here, Steyer's group is also behind ballot initiatives in Nevada and Michigan that launched their campaigns this month, too.
The renewable energy initiative appears to have some on the defensive. APS recently said in a statement to New Times that the utility company has questions about the amendment; the company is already on track to supply 50 percent of its customers with renewable energy and is investing heavily in renewable sources, a spokesperson said.
Opponents, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, are on the attack when it comes to the potential ballot measure. An opposition campaign is also gearing up.
Political action committee Arizonans for Affordable Electricity registered two days ago with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. The committee apparently is planning to focus on the initiative's deep-pocketed backer — not to mention the average customer who loathes paying more for electricity — during the effort to defeat the amendment.
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"The massive loopholes in this ballot proposal make it abundantly clear their special-interest campaign has nothing to do with clean energy, clear skies, or public health and everything to do with lining the pockets of the initiative’s California billionaire benefactor: Tom Steyer," campaign spokesperson Matthew Benson said in an emailed statement. "If approved by voters, he and his 9-figure energy ventures would benefit and leave Arizona families stuck with higher electricity bills.”