APS/Solar Industry

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Efforts are underway to try and mend relations between Arizona Public Service Company and the solar industry. Hear from Arizona Corporation Commissioner Tom Forese on the issue.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, a state corporation commissioner discusses efforts to find agreements with APS and the solar industry, and we'll hear about a plan to ask voters to fight dark money, and reform the state's elections system. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon.

Video: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon, I'm Ted Simons, according to the Arizona Capitol Times, most of the $3.5 million in so-called dark money that went to elect Governor Ducey can be traced back to Arizona political operative Sean Noble, head of the American Encore PAC. Tax records show that Encore gave money to elect a number of other state officials and lawmakers. Efforts are underway to try and mend relations between APS and the solar industry but just what is being done and how much has been accomplished. Last week we talked to a representative from the solar industry. Tonight, we welcome Arizona Corporation commissioner, Tom Forese. Good to see you again.

Tom Forese: Ted, not only is it good to be with you today, but you are one of the best, if I don't get questions on dark money, immigration, and abortion, by the end of the interview, I will be disappointed.

Ted Simons: All right. We don't want to leave you disappointed. But let's start with this idea of working with APS and the solar industry to find some kind of meeting of the minds because so far, it's been a blood bath.

Tom Forese: You betcha ya. Let's pull back to 40,000 feet and look at three different parties. First, you have regulated monopolies in Arizona. And the company, the companies around for a very long time. Arizona could not have done what it did, could not have grown the way that it did if we didn't have the structure that we had. Companies like any industry, need to be innovative and disrupt themselves in order to not be disrupted from outside. Now, we have a new industry. Not that new. But, in the words of Jeff Besos, solar is in its infancy, it's 8:00 in the morning and they are lying in bed the alarm clock hasn't gone off. They have a lot to grow, and the third group is the rate payer. With the current structure and the way that frankly, these folks have been fighting over the last few years, how do we reset things? In order to have it not be good for solar and for utilities, but good for the rate payer?

Ted Simons: Can you reset things so that all three parties can benefit? Right now, and we had solar on last week, and they are saying that it's still a long way to go, and they are trying to get folks to talk, and that sounds like it's a long way from some kind of compromise.

Tom Forese: And we'll have a meeting in the next month, I believe, and I am an optimist, I have to be an optimist, I believe that things can get put together. There is a cottage industry financed to keep this fight going. On all sides. And I hope to put them out of business. I think that there is a way to find solutions that fit for everyone. Arizona is growing. There is a massive market. There is no reason that it has to be this level of infighting.

Ted Simons: When you are saying there is a cottage industry that industry on the APS side is?

Tom Forese: It's all parties.

Ted Simons: I know, but I am asking for each side. Solar industry, would be what? Checks and balances and others?

Tom Forese: I brought out a list by list name of each person, I don't know. In fact, one of the challenges is that there are a lot of people being paid on all sides that we don't know about. But, my focus is not on this cottage industry. My focus is not on the people that are incentivized for a fight to continue. My focus is making sure that one, we have healthy utilities who provide the best possible price, that we support a young, growing, innovative, solar industry, and then we create a good environment for the rate payer, so it's a great place to live and do business.

Ted Simons: And when we had Solar on last week, we talked about net metering, that's the Guerrilla in the room, the major player here as far as selling unused electricity back to the grid, and having APS paying retail rates, they don't want to pay that. They don't think it's fair. They get a cheaper rated by wholesale but they have to pay retail rates from these folks who get more power than they can use from their solar rooftops. There, again, I can -- I understand what APS is saying, and I understand what solar is saying, and I also understand that that's a big thing between them, what are you going to do as a regulator, as a corporation commissioner to get those two sides talking?

Tom Forese: So, remember part of my job is judicial.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Tom Forese: And I have a current issue in front of me, called the value of solar dockets, so I am limited on what I can say, so for those of the viewers who want a deep dive, you go to azcc.gov, and you can read all the letters to the docket, so you can see the different sides of the argument. This much I will say: who is to say that anything in the existing model today, is the right way to do business? I want to tell you about my visit with --

Ted Simons: Solar City's CEO?

Tom Forese: Lyndon --

Ted Simons: Yes.

Tom Forese: And I was calling him Lyndon Reed, it's Rive. I flew out to visit with him, young guy. He's Elon Musk's cousin, super bright. I asked are you interested in finding a new model, and he lit up. He's very interested. And I believe him to be sincere. And we have a meeting set with him and the CEO of APS, and what will start to be, start to discuss, is blowing up the old model. And coming up with a new way for both.

Ted Simons: Are you saying that the CEO of Solar City has a meeting set up with APS? You have arranged that, they will be speaking?

Tom Forese: Correct. We're organizing it, at the commission. It's me and Doug Little.

Ted Simons: Ok, and you and Doug. There are folks out there, and you have heard the criticism, and you know what's going on, on. The Corporation Commission in general, you two guys in particular, you are beholding to APS, and it's impossible to have trust there. How do you respond to that?

Tom Forese: I don't need to. That's a campaign issue. And frankly, it's not about, you know, this issue has dogged us since we were in the campaign. I sat at this table during one of the debates, and had people pelt us. Our job is to make this a great place to live and a great place to do business. The commission is a, is a very influential place. We have a lot of tools. There are nine departments. My job is to focus on making this a better place, and if they believe that there is some concern, then I am sure that they will come and sit at the table with us, with those concerns, but that does not change the fact that Doug and I are both committed to finding a solution.

Ted Simons: But, again, you have got another commissioner who now, Commissioner Burns, who wants to see these APS campaign finance records, and he says that without that, the integrity of the commission is being damaged. Does he have a point?

Tom Forese: Good old Bob Burns, I'm not sure to fight with Bob. And you know, he's been around for 40 some years, and he's got a lot of experience, and he's done a lot of really good things for Arizona. I disagree with him. And the major issue is, you've been given a certain allotment of time in your life, and I have, Bob has. He believes this is the best issue that serves the people of Arizona. I don't. I think that the best thing that we can do for Arizona is to create a great environment for people to live and start a business.

Ted Simons: You understand that people who say, if you are going to regulate this, and it is a judicial capacity here, you will be deciding everything from rate cases to subsidies, that they need to know who is behind the -- you called it a campaign issue, it was a campaign issue. But, it has certainly bled over now, post-campaign. How do you deal with that? How do you tell folks, oh, he's not going to help Solar. He's siding with APS. They paid for his campaign. There is no way that he's going to see this Even Steven down the middle. How do you respond?

Tom Forese: Not my first rodeo, so I got to spend time in the legislature, and the legislature regulates a lot of things. So, a lot of people donated money to my campaigns. And if anybody getting to know me a bit, Ted, let me tell you about myself. If somebody were to donate to my campaign, and then say, I did x, y, and z and now I want your help, they would not like my response to them. Ok. I have no idea who did what in the campaign.

Ted Simons: Have you tried to find out?

Tom Forese: Lightly, but the thing is, is do I want to know? What I want to do is turn this into the capital of the southwest. I want Arizona to be what Atlanta is in The South. And that's my focus. And I am not one of these guys that have to be in office. Forever. I have got a normal life, Ted. Believe it or not, I have a family -- kids at home that are watching this. My point is this, my focus is on making sure that we have got a great environment here, and all of the noise from outside, whatever that might be, and in the legislature, there was a lot of it. People can say whatever that they want to say, and I will still do what I believe is the right thing.

Ted Simons: So scenario, Solar City comes up with plan A, APS doesn't like that, and they would rather do plan B, and you say plan A, when you talk about creative disruption and the whole nine yards makes better sense. Are you going to go for plan A?

Tom Forese: Well, here's the dilemma. By that rationale, to do what APS would want me to do, if they, in fact, supported me, is just as bad as doing the opposite for that very reason. Also, by this rationale, if somebody wanted to sabotage a candidate, couldn't they then support them in the campaign and out themselves as their supporter? All of that is outside noise. Here's the moral compass and what's right. You do research. You go input from all sides. You understand the issue. And then you figure out the best model, not for the left, not for the right. But for the taxpayer and the rate payer.

Ted Simons: And that's regardless of any dark money that came into anyone's campaign, yours included.

Tom Forese: That's correct.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Forese: Yes.

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Tom Forese: Arizona Corporation Commissioner

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