New ballot measure crops up in Arizona clean energy fight

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A new bill would allow state utility regulators to ignore a proposed requirement that half the state's power come from renewable energy by 2030. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A new bill would allow state utility regulators to ignore a proposed requirement that half the state's power come from renewable energy by 2030. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature are moving to put their own version of an increased renewable energy mandate on the November ballot.

If approved, the new measure would compete with one being circulated by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona. Both measures would insert a constitutional mandate to require 50 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030 -- but the new legislative version would allow state utility regulators to sidestep the standards by finding they might raise customer bills or cause reliability concerns.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Politics]

The voter referral is set for a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, called the proposal a safety valve to protect Arizonans from skyrocketing utility rates that could come from "unreasonably high" standards.

"I'm looking out for the environment and the affordability and reliability," he said, "not just the pocket of people who own and sell renewable energy."

Kavanagh slammed the Clean Energy campaign for being backed by "out-of-state billionaires." The group has ties with wealthy California environmentalist Tom Steyer.

Arizona Public Service Co., the state's largest utility, issued a statement Monday that blasted Steyer for putting "reliability and affordability at risk," and backed the legislative initiative.

"We are proposing this referendum to ensure Arizona elected policymakers are the ones advancing Arizona's clean energy future while preserving reliability, affordability, security and the best interests of our state," the utility said.

The Clean Energy ballot initiative already prompted a law signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey last week that sharply limits the cost of noncompliance with renewable energy mandates.

[READ MORE: New Arizona law aims to buck clean energy ballot plan]

Clean Energy has until July 5 to collect 225,963 valid signatures in order get a spot on the ballot. Communications director Pita Juarez said the group is carefully reviewing the new legislative initiative to determine their next steps.

About 40 percent of the state's renewable electricity generation came from solar energy, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Arizona Corporation Commission requires electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. The state is roughly two-thirds of the way there; data from EIA show that 10.9 percent came from renewables in 2016.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club who supports the Clean Energy proposal, said the new initiative seeks to confuse voters. She noted the Republican legislative proposal's name, "Clean and Affordable Energy for a Health Arizona Amendment" -- is just two words different from the campaign's name.

"I'm calling it for what it is," Bahr said. "A cynical attempt to try to keep Arizona voters from passing renewable energy standards that will move along clean energy in our state."

The measure is HCR 2017.

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