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Unknown but impactful: Arizona Corporation Commission elections

Arizona Corporation Commission candidate Joshua Polacheck filed nominating signatures at the Secretary of State’s office on March 30. Courtesy of Joshua Polacheck.
Arizona Corporation Commission candidate Joshua Polacheck filed nominating signatures at the Secretary of State’s office on March 30. Courtesy of Joshua Polacheck.

Ever wondered who decides how high someones monthly utility bills are? The Arizona Corporation Commission plays a significant role in these decisions — it’s responsible for regulating the state’s utilities, approving rates set by utility companies and shaping the state’s electricity, water, gas and waste markets. As this year’s election cycle inches closer, the upcoming ACC elections have become a battleground for those invested in implementing clean and renewable energy in Arizona. 

Samantha Wetherell, an advisor and former president of the UArizona Divest student organization, described the upcoming ACC elections as “the most important race for clean energy and climate in the state of Arizona.” 

“We have noticed a lack of enthusiasm towards clean energy from the commissioners recently,” Wetherell said, citing recent initiatives from the Commission to repeal Arizona’s energy efficiency standards and to scale back payments to individuals who sell their excess solar power to utility companies. 

UAZ Divest has endorsed three candidates running for seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission: Joshua Polacheck, Ylenia Aguilar and Jonathon Hill. 

“One of the things that we’ve come to realize by doing activism on campus is that the issue of clean energy and climate change extends past the UA,” Wetherell said, regarding the organization’s endorsements. “We want to be involved in local energy, climate and social justice issues that impact the larger communities.” 

One of candidate Aguilar’s priorities is increasing accessibility to renewable and clean energy resources for communities across Arizona. 

“Talking about bringing in EV vehicles and clean energy is amazing, but sometimes communities don’t have access to these options,” Aguilar said. “We need to bring in more opportunities so all people can have access to electric vehicles and solar panels everywhere.” 

In particular, Aguilar emphasized the importance of implementing protections for consumers alongside advocating for clean energy policies. 

“We also need to focus on how [the expansion of clean energy] looks on the ground, and how that impacts communities who don’t often understand what’s happening,” Aguilar said, referencing how some solar companies take advantage of potential customers through misleading advertising of incentives and other benefits

Candidate Polacheck highlighted frustrations with the current commission’s recent stances on renewable energy as a motivation for running for a seat on the commission.

“We had a bipartisan plan that was passed in 2004, one of the most forward-thinking in the country, that provided a transition to 100% energy independence and energy security for our state through clean energy by 2050,” Polacheck said. “Over the last 14 months, the Republican majority on the Corporation Commission has systematically dismantled that plan.” 

In addition to repealing the state’s energy efficiency and renewable standards, the current commission has also recently approved a rate hike for APS customers’ monthly bills, raised the monthly charge for residential customers with rooftop solar systems from $2.50 to $3 and is considering changing the way that rooftop solar customers are compensated for excess power generation

Arizonans have already begun to feel the effects of these policy decisions, with some reporting as much as 100% increases in their energy bills

“We had a pretty cold winter this year, and because of some of the rate increases approved by the Corporation Commission, some folks were seeing some pretty massive bills for their natural gas for their heating,” Polacheck said.

Commissioner Lea Márquez Peterson, one of the four commissioners who voted for repealing Arizona’s energy efficiency and renewable standards, is running for re-election in the upcoming race. 

“What you saw occur related to the energy standard was a cleaning up of our rules. The mandate was antiquated and out of date, and we had already achieved it,” Peterson said, referring to the original energy mandate’s regulation that electric utilities must generate 15% of its energy from renewable resources by 2025

“Each company has also set pretty assertive goals themselves of 100% clean energy by 2050, and that’s set by the company and not required or mandated by the commission because we want to share that balance of affordability and reliability,” Peterson said. 

Regardless of where someone may stand in the clean energy debate, these upcoming Arizona Corporation Commission elections will be pivotal in shaping the future of Arizona’s energy and utilities landscape. 

“These small state elections may seem inconsequential, but they have incredible effects,” Wetherell said. “When it comes to affecting the state of Arizona, pay attention to these local and state elections.”


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