Lawmakers debate the clean energy initiative that will be on the ballot

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A clean energy initiative that proposes the state to convert to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 will be on the ballot this fall for voters to decide.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, is in favor of the initiative, saying it addresses the statements from Arizonans who are asking for more renewable energy. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, says the problem isn’t with bringing in more renewable energy, but the way it’s being passed without a safety net is a dangerous thing.

“The voters are being asked to accept an extremely aggressive, potentially dangerous economically, portfolio of 50 percent by 2030,” Kavanagh says. “Very few states are that aggressive. If it can’t be met, it will make electrical costs skyrocket and it also threatens the stability of the grid. Overreliance on solar in particular which this will mostly involve means you have an irregular power supply.”

Engel believes Arizonans aren’t getting all of the facts. She says that the cost of solar is currently plummeting. On top of that, bids in Colorado for winds and storage are below the operating costs of coal right now. She cites a study that concluded there is no correlation between an increase in energy costs and more aggressive energy standards.

“New York State has a renewable portfolio standard of 50 percent ad they’ve had it in law for quite some time,” Engel says. “New York State is nothing like Arizona where we have almost 300 days of sunshine a year… [The opposing initiative] has some very vague language that allows the Corporation Commission to basically wipe out this whole renewable energy initiative if it finds that it’s not in the well-being of the state of Arizona. There’s no definition of what well-being means.”

Kavanagh points out that New York is one of the 20 states who have safety valves in place out of the 29 states with renewable energy standards. A safety valve is a backup plan if the renewable energy becomes too expensive. It will temporarily halt the converting to renewable energy process until costs are at a more affordable level. Engel says the safety valve is actually a roadblock.

Kavanagh sponsors the opposing initiative which is less aggressive and does not require a vote from the public. He says his proposal will still include guidelines for the Corporation Commission to follow.

TED SIMONS: CLEAN ENERGY FOR A HEALTHY ARIZONA RECENTLY LAUNCHED A BALLOT INITIATIVE THAT REQUIRES UTILITIES TO PROVIDE AT LEAST 50-PERCENT OF ELECTRICITY FROM RENEWABLE SOURCES BY 2030. SUPPORTERS SAY THE MOVE WILL SAVE MONEY FOR CONSUMERS AND BUSINESSES, OPPONENTS ARGUE THAT UTILITY BILLS WILL INCREASE AND JOBS WILL BE LOST. HERE TO SPEAK IN SUPPORT OF THE INITIATIVE IS DEMOCRATIC STATE REPRESENTATIVE KIRSTAN ENGLE AND IN OPPOSITION, REPUBLICAN STATE SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH. NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE. GIVE US A BETTER DEFINITION OF WHAT THE INITIATIVE WANTS?

KIRSTAN ENGLE: THE INITIATIVE IS RESPONDING TO ARIZONANS FOR YEARS NOW. THEY WOULD LIKE MORE RENEWABLE ENERGY. THEY WOULD LIKE THE MATERIALS TO BE MORE RELIANT ON RENEWABLE ENERGY IN THEIR ENERGY MIX. THEY HAVE NOT BEEN GETTING THAT FROM THE ARIZONA CORPORATION COMMISION, BUT NOW THE VOTERS HAVE A CHANCE TO VOTE ON THE INITIATIVE IN THE FALL WHICH WOULD INCREASE THE PERCENTAGE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY.

TED SIMONS: WHY NOT INCREASE, WE HAVE OVER 300 DAYS OF SUNSHINE HERE. WHY NOT INCREASE THOSE RENEWABLE SOURCES?

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: GOOD QUESTION. I HAVE NO PROBLEM INCREASING RENEWABLE ENERGY. I THINK TECHNOLOGY THE BRINGING US IN THAT DIRECTION. THE QUESTION IS, DO WE DO THAT GIVING THE VOTERS NO CHOICE? THEY ARE ASKED TO ACCEPT AN AGGRESSIVE AND DANGEROUS ECONOMICALLY PORTFOLIO 50% BY 2030. FEW STATES ARE THAT AGGRESSIVE. IF IT CAN'T BE MET, IT CAN MAKE ELECTRIC COSTS SKYROCKET AND IF YOU WANT YOUR AIR CONDITIONERS TO DIE YOU GO WITH THIS OR YOU GO WITH ANOTHER PROPOSAL WHICH I SPONSORED, AND YOU GIVE THE VOTERS CHOICE.

TED SIMONS: WE WILL GET TO THAT ONE IN A SECOND, THERE ARE QUESTIONS REGARDING THAT ONE. THE IDEA OF A RELIABLE GRID, MORE DIVERSIFIED POWER SOURCE, THOSE SORT OF THINGS, DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU?

KIRSTAN ENGLE: THOSE ARE IMPORTANT CLARIFICATIONS, BUT I DON'T THINK ARIZONA VOTERS ARE GETTING THE FACTS. THEY ARE NOT HEARING THAT THE COST OF SOLAR HAS BEEN PLUMMETING. WE NOW RECENTLY IN COLORADO, THERE WERE BIDS FOR WIND AND STORAGE AND SOLAR AND STORAGE FOR WIND AND STORAGE BELOW THE OPERATING COST OF COAL RIGHT NOW. WE ARE NOT GETTING THE FACTS RIGHT. THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE STUDY THAT HAS BEEN PEER-REVIEWED DATA BY AN ASU PROFESSOR SHOWING OVERTIME LOOKING AT REAL DATA, THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN INCREASE ENERGY PRICES AND AGGRESSIVE PORTFOLIO STANDARDS.

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: IT IS A DANGEROUS GAMBLE TO DO 50% WITHOUT A SAFETY VALVE. 29 STATES HAVE RENEWABLE STANDARDS. 20 OF THE 29 HAVE SAFETY VALVES THAT SAY IF THE COST GETS TOO HIGH, IT STOPS. THIS PARTICULAR INITIATIVE LACKS THAT SAFETY VALVE. THIS CALLS FOR 50% WHICH IS A HIGH PRESSURE LOAD WHICH NEEDS A SAFETY VALVE MORE.

TED SIMONS: SOME WOULD ARGUE THAT THE MANDATE IN ARIZONA IS LOW COMPARED TO OTHER STATES. VALID ARGUMENT?

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: 50% IS LOW COMPARED TO OTHER STATES. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE PENDULUM. THIS IS 50%. THE FIRST THING IT WILL DO IS BECAUSE ELECTRICAL RATES TO SKYROCKET ENTERING INTO LONG TERM DEMANDS AND ENERGY.
KIRSTAN ENGLE:I DON'T THINK WE HAVE EVIDENCE OF THAT. I WOULD SAY NEW YORK STATE HAS A RENEWABLE STANDARD OF 50%. THEY HAVE HAD IT FOR SOME TIME AND NEW YORK STATE IS NOTHING LIKE ARIZONA WHERE WE HAVE 300 DAYS OF SUNSHINE A YEAR.

TED SIMONS: WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY VALVE?

KIRSTAN ENGLE: IT'S NOT A SAFETY VALVE. LET'S BE SERIOUS. IT'S A ROADBLOCK. IT HAS VAGUE LANGUAGE ALLOWING THE COMMISSION TO WIPE OUT THE RENEWABLE INITIATIVE. IF IT'S NOT IN THE WELL BEING OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA, NO DEFINITION OF WHAT WELL BEING IS. THE ARIZONA CORPORATION COMMISSION HAS NOT BEEN A BIG FAN OF RENEWABLE ENERGY.


SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: I AM GLAD YOU MENTIONED NEW YORK STATE AS I AM A REFUGEE FROM New York STATE. NEW YORK STATE HAS A SAFETY VALVE; THEY HAVE A 1.7% OVERCOST, EXTREMELY LOW. CALIFORNIA HAS A HIGH STANDARD. THEY HAVE A SAFETY VALVE. THESE ARE DEEP BLUE STATES THAT WANT TO BE GREEN BUT THEY WANT TO HAVE A SAFETY VALVE AND PROTECT THE BUSINESS COMPLIEMENT AND THEIR DEVELOPMENT

TED SIMONS: SOME WOULD ARGUE THAT THIS INVOLVES HAVING THE POWER TO SAY, I DO NOT THINK SO. IT'S OVER.

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: NOT. THE PROPOSAL WE ARE REFERRING WOULD HAVE GUIDELINES FOR THE CORPORATION COMMISSION. THEY WOULD HAVE TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE RELIABILITY OF THE GRID AND COST OF ELECTRICITY AS GUIDELINES. THEY ARE ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE THAT PUT THIS INITIATIVE ON THE BALLOT, PRIVATE CITIZENS WROTE THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, FUNDED BY AN OUT OF STATE BILLIONAIRE.

TED SIMONS: LETS TALK ABOUT THAT THE BILLIONAIRE IN CALIFORNIA BEHIND THIS, WHAT DOES HE CARE ABOUT ARIZONA POWER?

KIRSTAN ENGLE: I THINK THAT IS A RED HERRING. THE REASON IT'S AN ISSUE IS BECAUSE THE UTILITIES CORPORATION HASN'T ACTED. THIS IS WHAT THE VOTERS WANT. THERE IS A LOT OF STIRRING UP OUT OF STATE THINGS. ARIZONA IS NOT A STRANGER TO OUT OF STATE MONEY IN A LOT OF ITS POLICIES, GOOD AND BAD, BUT I DON'T THINK IT'S RELEVANT. I THINK IT'S A GOOD INITIATIVE OR BAD INITIATIVE. IT MEANS JOBS, SOLAR JOBS, REDUCE CLIMATE CHANGE. IT'S GOOD FOR ARIZONA.

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: IT IS ABOUT WHAT THE VOTERS WANT. THAT IS WHAT THE REFERRAL WE WILL ALSO PUT ON THE INITIATIVE BUYS. WE ARE SAYING ARIZONA VOTERS, YOU ARE ABLE TO HAVE A FULL CHOICE. YOU CAN REJECT BOTH AND STICK WITH THE CURRENT SITUATION, HAVE THE INITIATIVE WITHOUT THE SAFETY, OR THE THIRD INITIATIVE WITH THE SAFETY VALVE. IT LETS THE VOTERS CHANGE.

TED SIMONS: THE COMMISSION CAN IGNORE THE MANDATE IF THEY THINK THE WELL BEING OF THE STATE IS EFFECTED. SOUNDS OFTEN VAGUE, DOESN'T IT?

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: NO, IT DOES NOT. IF THE ELECTRICAL GENERATION GOES HIGH ENOUGH, YOU CAN HAVE MAJOR PROBLEMS WITH THE ECONOMY. BUSINESSES AND MANUFACTURING AVOID ARIZONA OR LEAVE. YOU HAVE JOB LOSSES. IT CAN HAVE DEVASTATING EFFECTS. ANYONE CAN GO TO COURT AND CHALLENGE IT IF THEY THINK THEY ARE MISINTERPRETING THE LAW.

TED SIMONS: AGAIN, THE IDEA OF THE ELECTED PERSONNEL HAVING A DECISION ON THIS, A AUTHORITY ON THIS --

KIRSTAN ENGLE: IT'S A ROADBLOCK. THE CORPORATION COMMISSION COULD HAVE INCREASED ARIZONA'S RENEWABLE PORTFOLIO STANDARD. INSTEAD, IN A STATE WITH 300 DAYS OF SUNSHINE A YEAR, WE HAVE ONE OF THE LOWEST RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARDS. WE ARE MISSING THE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION RIGHT NOW. WE ARE CONFUSING THE VOTERS WITH A SIMILAR INITIATIVE, WITH LITTLE CHANGES AND OBTUSE, VAGUE STANDARD OF THE WELL BEING OF ARIZONA.

TED SIMONS: THE NAMING OF THE INITIATIVE IS ALMOST WORD FOR WORD, CHANGED ONE WORD. THEY SAY IT'S AN EFFORT TO CONFUSE THE VOTERS.

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: IT'S MISREPRESENTING IT. LOOK, YOU HAVE TWO ALMOST IDENTICAL INITIATIVES. THE REFERRAL WITH THE SAFETY VALVE INCLUDES THE WORD, "AFFORDABLE." THE OTHER ONE IS MORE MISLEADING. IT USES THE TERM HEALTHY. THEY EXCLUDE NUCLEAR. THEY WOULD FORCE THE REPLACEMENT OF NUCLEAR WITH NATURAL GAS, WITH HIGH CARBON EMISSIONS. THIS PROPOSAL WILL HAVE DETRIMENTAL EFFECT ON AIR QUALITY.

TED SIMONS: LAST QUESTION HERE, ALREADY THE LAW, IF THE LEGISLATION PASSES, IT WILL BE NEUTERED BECAUSE IT'S LOWERED TO A MERE PITTANCE.

KIRSTAN ENGLE: THAT IS A GREAT POINT THIS IS APS SECOND TRY TO CUT RENEWABLE ENERGY. THE FIRST THING THEY DID WAS SAY GIVE US A SLAP ON THE HAND IF WE VIOLENT IF EVEN PASSED.

TED SIMONS: I HAVE FIVE SECONDS.

SENATOR JOHN KAVANAGH: THAT IS IN THE ARIZONA STATUTE. THAT'S WHAT THE FOUNDERS PUT IN THERE.

KIRSTAN ENGLE: I WOULD LIKE TO SEE WHAT THE VOTERS ARE GOING TO DO.

TED SIMONS: WE MAY HAVE A CHANCE TO SEE THAT. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

KIRSTAN ENGLE: THANK YOU.

Rep. Kirsten Engel: (D) Tucson
Sen. John Kavanagh: (R) Fountain Hills

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