Perhaps best known for setting utility rates, the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission gained three new members as a result of the November general election. Outgoing Commissioner, Bill Mundell, talks about the political makeup of the new commission and some of the challenges it faces.
Ted Simons: Hello and welcome to "horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Three new members of the Arizona corporation commission were sworn into office Monday. New to the five-member commission, perhaps best known for setting utility rates are former state representative bob stump, former state representative Sandra Kennedy, the first African American elected to the commission, and former state representative and Cochise county supervisor, Paul Newman. Today, the commissioners elected their new chairman. They selected Kris Mayes, who has served on the commission since 2003.
Kris Mayes: The next couple of years are going to be absolutely stunning in the degree of the work that we have to do here at the commission. The scope of the issues that we will deal with, and the accomplishments and achievements that I think we can make together. I'm a major proponent, like some of my colleagues, of increasing the amount of renewable energy that we do in the state of Arizona, in the energy efficiency around water conservation. I do believe that Arizona over the next couple of years can become the solar area capital of America.
Ted Simons: Joining me now is outgoing corporation commissioner, Bill Mundell. A former state lawmaker, he was appointed to the commission by Governor Jane Hull in 1999.
Ted Simons: Good to have you on "horizon."
Bill Mundell: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Are you going to miss it?
Bill Mundell: It's been nine years and the only way I can really put that in perspective, my daughter was four when I got appointed and now she's 13.
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Bill Mundell: It's a great public policy position.
Ted Simons: The commission now changes. What do you see as far as the dynamics?
Bill Mundell: They're going to have three new commissioners and two democrats being elected and that will be an interesting mix to see how they proceed going forward. But the commission should not be Partisan in nature. The reason they're called commissioners is because we're like judges. We listen to the evidence and make decisions, and there shouldn't be a lot of partisan.
Ted Simons: Shouldn't be a lot of partisanship but does it sneak in?
Bill Mundell: I don't know I haven't had that experience but you can disagree on issues in a respectful manner and I assume that that is what the commission will do.
Ted Simons: Alternative energy, are we going to see more action in the coming years?
Bill Mundell: Let me put this in perspective. In 2001, Arizona was the first state in the United States to pass a renewable energy standard and then two years ago, we increased it to 15%. Some people think we went too far. Others think we didn't go far enough. So that will be an issue that this commission will be looking at. Whether or not to expand it, and how do you pay for it.
Ted Simons: The solar generating station near Gila Bend, what's the status?
Bill Mundell: It's going to be the biggest. 280 megawatts. For 70,000 homes, it's the biggest in the world.
Ted Simons: So it's still on a go. We keep hearing finance problems could be an issue.
Bill Mundell: We had a hearing in December and we granted approval to go forward and it's on the fast track to be built. The next step is to start construction. It's going to be the biggest in the world.
Ted Simons: Two sides looking at alternative energy. Some say you need to push harder. Arizona should be the Saudi of solar. Others say you're pushing too hard. It's got to be more affordable.
Bill Mundell: I said that myself. Having said that, we have 15% renewable energy for our utilities. The far left thinks we went -- haven't gone far enough. The far right, too far. We were sued by the Goldwater institute saying we overstepped our boundaries. I think 15% is a good starting point and the new commission will have to decide again what percentage and how to pay for it.
Ted Simons: Will that be the biggest challenge and if so, what other challenges?
Bill Mundell: I think it will be a big challenge. The other big challenge will be if congress passes a carbon tax, electricity generated from coal will go up in price and the new commission will have to figure out how to deal with that.
Ted Simons: From your time on the commission, let's talk about what you're most proud of, the most satisfying aspects, and start with the positive aspects.
Bill Mundell: The thing I'm most proud of is the renewable energy standard. I was chairman in 2001 when we passed the first renewable energy standard in the United States and then subsequently increased it to 15%. That's what I'm most proud of. And energy efficiency programs, some call it -- you reduce the amount of electricity that homes use and you save customers money and reduce the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere. Because of our energy efficiency programs, we've reduced that.
Ted Simons: As far as frustrations, things you wish could have been achieved but still not done?
Bill Mundell: I went through the Jim Ervin era were we had a commissioner investigated for unethical acts and that was a down part of my tenure. I called for his resignation along with the other republican commissioners and that was a low point in my tenure. The thing I probably would like to see us continue to move on is the energy efficiency programs and renewable energy standard.
Ted Simons: And do you think this new commission will have that in mind?
Bill Mundell: Two of them campaigned as increasing it to 50% and that's certainly a laudable goal. The question is how do you pay for it?
Ted Simons: Last question. Do you think that people truly understand what the corporation commission does?
Bill Mundell: When I go to the rotary clubs and other clubs I always say, do you know what I do? And most don't. Every time an Arizonan turns on a light, their air conditioner, takes a shower or cooks or heats their house with gas, passes over a railroad track, buys gasoline, invests in a stock or bond or starts a business, a decision by the corporation commissioners has probably impacted their lives.
Ted Simons: Very good. Thank you for joining us.
Bill Mundell: Thanks for having me.