New Arizona law aims to buck clean energy ballot plan

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(Source: Sean Pepper/Cronkite News) (Source: Sean Pepper/Cronkite News)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Supporters of a plan to require Arizona electric companies to get more power from clean energy sources said Friday they aren't backing down from their proposed ballot measure, even as Gov. Doug Ducey signed Republican-backed legislation that would essential nullify the requirements.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona is pushing a ballot initiative that would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment requiring half the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. On Friday, the Republican governor signed a law that will allow utilities to pay a fine of as little as $100 for any violations of the proposed requirements.

Republican lawmakers and the state's largest utility, Arizona Public Service Co., had condemned Clean Energy for having ties to California billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer. They also said such a requirement would cause electricity rates to soar, a contention clean energy advocates say has no merit.

A statement from Ducey's office echoed that sentiment, saying the governor's goal is to protect Arizonans from skyrocketing electric bills.

"He supports increased use of alternative energies in a way that is manageable and doesn't hurt middle-class families," the statement said.

Clean Energy and Steyer's NextGen America, which supports the development of renewable energy sources, said Friday that the legislation "just reinforces the need for a ballot initiative that lets the people of Arizona, not corporate polluters like APS, decide their state's future."

Environmental activists and Democrats backing the initiative also blasted the proposal as an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the will of the voters, citing separation of powers issues. On Friday, the Sierra Club and other groups asked Ducey to veto the legislation.

In response to the proposed ballot initiative, APS worked with bill sponsor Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson. He said on the House floor Thursday that lawmakers must stand up against wealthy, out-of-state interests to defend the state's Constitution.

"Arizona's Constitution is not for sale," he said. "Take your money and go someplace else."

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, scoffed at the contention that the concern was wealthy out-of-staters. He cited the billionaire Koch brothers and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as examples of big financial supporters of Arizona Republicans and GOP-initiatives.

"The lack of self-examination is staggering to me," he said.

Last week at a committee hearing, APS lobbyist Rod Ross said the company pushed for the plan because of its concerns about the "hazardous" constitutional mandate.

If passed, the renewable requirements would drive up rate costs, cut tax revenue and put power plant employees out of work, APS contends.

"It reflects our concern that this initiative will have a catastrophic impact on the state's economy and our ratepayers," Ross said.

The proposed ballot initiative would amend the state's Constitution to require electric utilities to get at least 50 percent of their annual retail electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2030. Ten percent of their electricity must come from solar, according to the proposal, which would also allow the companies to earn and trade credits to meet the standards.

In order to get on the ballot, Clean Energy must collect 225,963 valid signatures by July 5.

Clean Energy's Pita Juarez said that Arizonans can and should be trusted to weigh in on the quality of the air and water.

"This unconstitutional and dirty APS bill will not stop us from fighting for our right to a clean, healthy Arizona," Juarez said in an emailed statement.

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