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In Heated Arizona Solar Battle, Top Regulators Tied To ALEC

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"In Heated Arizona Solar Battle, Top Regulators Tied To ALEC"

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CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

In the ongoing fight over whether Arizona will continue its remarkable expansion of solar energy, a ThinkProgress analysis reveals four of five members of the state’s energy regulator are tied to the conservative anti-clean energy group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The fight centers on Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), the state’s largest utility, versus solar energy companies over how much customers should be compensated for the energy produced by solar panels installed on their homes and businesses. APS believes customers receive too much credit for the excess energy produced by their panels while the industry maintains changing the policy, known as net-metering, would devastate their promising and rapidly expanding industry.

The state’s energy regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), is expected to begin hearings on the net-metering proposal in November. Four of the five commissioners are members of ALEC, the group backed by fossil fuel interests, major corporations and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. In 2012, ALEC dedicated its efforts to dismantling renewable energy laws around the country and though they failed completely in that effort, leaked documents from their recent annual meeting indicates they have no intention of backing down from the fight against clean energy.

A new report released Friday by Progress Now reveals ALEC’s involvement in attacking efforts to address climate change goes beyond clean energy laws — it has actively worked to help drilling companies hide fracking fluids, fight greenhouse gas emissions accords, and advance the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, among other initiatives.

ACC Chairman and former state legislator Bob Stump (R) is described as an ALEC member in his state legislature bio, as is Commissioner Gary Pierce (R), who earlier this year introduced and later retracted an ALEC-backed bill aimed at weakening the state’s renewable energy standard. Commissioner Brenda Burns (R) served on ALEC’s board for nine years and became the organization’s national chairman in 1999. And Commissioner Robert Burns (R) is a legacy member of ALEC and former Arizona state chair of the organization.

The Arizona Public Service Co. has come under fire recently for its conservative corporate ties, as well. In its public marketing efforts, APS has been running ads “explaining its commitment to solar,” but last week the utility admitted that it had been secretly contributing to outside nonprofits running negative ads against solar power.

The nonprofit in question, the 60 Plus Association, bills itself as a more conservative alternative to AARP but as the Huffington Post reported, it’s “backed by the Koch brothers, and the Arizona Republic confirmed that the work against net metering in Arizona is being coordinated by conservative operative Sean Noble, who has been described as ‘the wizard behind the screen’ in the Kochs’ donor network.”

This isn’t the first time that 60 Plus has strayed into the energy space, having signed a letter opposing Ron Binz’s nomination to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission along with other Koch-funded groups.

On Thursday, Commissioner Robert Burns announced a probe into the APS funding of 60 Plus, asking all of the major players “to reveal any additional secret funding of nonprofits or public relations campaigns,” according to the Huffington Post.

As Dave Roberts highlighted, the potential for solar energy in Arizona is remarkable. First, it has the highest solar insolation of any U.S. state, which means it gets a tremendous amount of sunlight. In addition, a study out of Arizona State University’s business school combined several factors, including costs, to create an “Optimal Deployment of Solar Index” and determined the most promising state for solar production is Arizona.

However, the state’s solar industry has maintained that the net-metering policy provides a key incentive for customers to install solar panels and without it, the burgeoning market could collapse.

As the ACC begins its solar hearings this month, the major question that remains in Arizona is whether the state will continue its successful solar trajectory or if conservative fossil fuel interests, having failed resoundingly in state legislatures, will attack clean energy laws through the utilities and their regulators.

Tiffany Germain, Senior Researcher with the Energy War Room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, contributed to this piece.

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