Joseph Hui, a.k.a. "Solar Man," the principle of a Scottsdale solar-power firm, is running for the Arizona Corporation Commission to help businesses just like his.
His products, which include "solar awnings" installed on homes and tied to the grid, may reduce the amount of electricity an Arizonan gets from nuclear or coal.
But the state's conflict-of-interest laws would seem to prevent the write-in candidate from voting on solar-related issues in the unlikely event that he's elected.
Ironically, one of Hui's main issues is the help Arizona Public Service allegedly gave to the campaigns of Republican corporation commission candidates Tom Forese and Doug Little. Hui, ticked off that the "polluters" seem to have bought two commission candidates favorable to their wishes, is fighting dark money with light. He launched his write-in campaign late, in early September.
Yet with all the outrage over the dark-money scandal, imagine if the biggest shareholder of Pinnacle West, APS' parent corporation, or Donald Brandt, APS' president and CEO, were vying to become one of the five influential members of the commission.
Hui's been trying to get his company, Monarch Power, off the ground for at least a year. A graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped Hong Kong build its Internet infrastructure, Hui was also a professor and researcher at Arizona State University as recently as last year, but has retired. Besides the products his firm sells now, in 2013 Hui also tried to acquire a solar-panel manufacturing plant in Goodyear. On Tuesday, he announced a plan to raise $5 million to begin work on a "Solar Wonderland amusement park" and panel-building facility.
Hui appears sincere about his desire to see solar businesses take off, and possibly not just for the possibility of financial reward. Ticked off at one of our articles last year, he emailed us to complain and to tout the solar industry. We found him a little too starry-eyed about the near-term potential of solar power: He predicts that grid power will be used only for "backup" in just 10 years. Well, that was last October, so now it would be nine.
Lately, he's worried that Arizona seems to be stifling solar development with a new tax policy on leased rooftop units and last year's net-metering fight, which ended with the corporation commission imposing a new fee on rooftop-solar users.
But deciding issues that affect solar businesses directly may be taking it too far.
New Times asked Hui recently about the possibility that he would have a conflict of interest on solar issues if he was elected. His short response: "Silly. Is ACC concerned about non-regulated business, such as cheeseburgers or solar panels or running gun ranges for Little or an IT business for Bittersmith?"
He's right to some extent, in that the corporation commission doesn't regulate solar businesses. But obviously, it makes decisions that affect them. State law prohibits public officials from voting on issues in which they have a personal interest: "Any public officer or employee who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency shall make known such interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such decision."
Rebecca Wilder, the commission's spokesperson, says members "will typically recuse themselves from a case if there's a conflict of interest."
She added that the issue of a potential conflict would depend on the specifics of a case and would likely require legal counsel, which would provided by the agency's legal division to any commissioner who had a concern.
Below -- Solar Man saves Arizona in a video by Hui:
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