From Solar to Nuclear

Republicans running for the Corporation Commission offer differing views on renewable energy, immigration

Three Phoenix residents are vying in this month's Arizona Corporation Commission Republican primary for two places on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot.

An ACC incumbent with additional political experience, Gary Pierce says he enjoys the utility-infrastructure-planning component of the position. "These are exciting things," Pierce says about ACC decisions. "Being a part of it (for another term), I would enjoy."

Brenda Burns served in the Arizona Legislature for 16 years, until 2002, and says she's running for the ACC because of concerns she has about the state's economy.

"Utility rates will have a significant impact on our economic future," Burns says. "They'll be part of the solution in how fast things turn around."

After being in the Legislature for eight years, Barry Wong was appointed to the commission in 2006 to fill out an unexpired term for six months.

"I understand the critical issues facing the state concerning energy rates and water," Wong says. "I'd like to serve as people's eyes and ears."

When he was on the commission, Wong supported initiating the renewable-energy standard. That mandate requires that electrical utility companies generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

"It was the right decision at the time," Wong says, "and I want to be there to protect it. It's the right standard today, and we need to maintain it."

Wong adds that other candidates may not feel as strongly about the distributive-generation portion of the standard. That component requires that 30 percent of the renewable goal be met by small systems, such as rooftop collectors.

Pierce said in a recent debate that Wong hasn't fairly represented his position, while Burns has suggested that rooftop systems have a place in the renewable-energy mix.

"For a conservative Republican like me, I love it that the market for (rooftop systems) took off," says Pierce. "People are clamoring for them, and (utility companies) are oversubscribed in some areas."

At the same time, Pierce believes that planning for additional nuclear generation in Arizona should start now. "We'll need a power mix in the future," he says.

Burns says she thinks the renewable standard is just about right. "As technology improves," she says, "I suspect we may pass the goal."

Referring to the often-controversial issue of determining where new power-transmission lines will go, Burns says she believes in planning ahead. "When we need them," she says, "we need to move them next to existing lines." There may be some extreme cases, she admits, where that wouldn't be possible.

Since leaving the ACC, Wong has been a member of its Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee. He says he voted against one proposal for a line that ran through a national wildlife refuge, and believes that planners should also try to avoid neighborhoods.

Pierce says new transmission lines will be needed, "but I've voted to move them (from a proposed route) if they make a dramatic impact on residents." He adds that mitigating the impacts of lines "as best you can" is required.

Pierce also thinks energy-conservation programs will reduce the amount of future power that is needed, and says he supports a recent ACC action to enhance energy-conservation efforts. He says retrofitting homes and making energy-efficiency changes to commercial buildings can help decrease our energy needs.

Burns says population projections for the state are "a huge issue." She sees the number of state residents by 2030 doubling from the current 6.5 million.

"That means we'll need more energy, and we've got to prepare to meet those needs," she says. Advanced planning, she reiterates, it the best way to do that.

Wong agrees planning is essential to avoid possible brownouts or blackouts. He also says he supports a mix of power sources—including nuclear.

During an interview, Wong brings up his much-publicized proposal to deny new electrical hookups to illegal residents of Arizona—and eventually transition them off the power system completely. That, he says, should reduce the demand for future power.

Pierce points out that enforcing Wong's proposal would have an impact on utility rates, while Burns characterizes it as "not very well-thought-out."

Burns thinks the ACC must continue to quickly turn around applications for limited liability corporations (LLC); otherwise, it will get a bad reputation with the business community.

Saying he supports low, stable rates, Pierce states: "I'm not a rubber stamp for the utility companies. I'm on the side of the ratepayers."

Pierce also says the turn-around time for approving the 4,400 monthly applications for LLCs that the commission receives is a priority of his. But it's his background that he specifically cites while asking voters for their support.

Burns also lists her personal and professional experience as the basis for asking for votes.

"I understand the challenges of those on a fixed income," she adds, "and my ability to work with the Legislature will provide stability to the commission."

Wong also mentions his experience and understanding of the issues involved as reasons voters should favor him.

"I'm a UA law grad," Wong concludes, "and served on the alumni board. I have contacts to Southern Arizona."

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