Lines on the Line

Two Democratic challengers try to break the GOP lock on the Arizona Corporation Commission

One-party domination has been the rule recently on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Now, Democrats Nina Trasoff and Mark Manoil are trying to break that Republican lock, while incumbents Jeff Hatch-Miller, Mike Gleason and Bill Mundell seek to prolong it in the race for three four-year terms.

Tucsonan Trasoff is the long-time owner of a corporation communications business. She points out that not only does one party dominate the commission, but also that no one from outside Maricopa County has been elected to it for at least 40 years. The result, she says, "is a bunch of people with similar points of view"--views that don't include those of Southern Arizonans.

Trasoff criticizes current commissioners for not asking tough questions of utility companies and for approving electric generating plants that sell most of their power to California.

"They come here, because the land is cheaper and our pollution standards lower," the 58-year-old says. "They use our water and run their transmission lines across our desert."

One of those lines was proposed by Unisource, aka Tucson Electric Power Company, to connect Tucson with Nogales. The controversial high-voltage project (See "Power Pack," by Tim Vanderpool, January 17, 2002) has been derailed by the U.S. Forest Service, and Trasoff is happy that happened, questioning why such a huge line is needed.

Hatch-Miller believes that he and the other incumbents deserve re-election because of their track record of success. "Why not stay with a team that works?" he asks, while pointing out the leadership role he has taken in assisting small water companies meet new EPA standards for arsenic in groundwater.

Elected to the commission two years ago, Hatch-Miller wasn't involved with the original decision on where to locate the Tucson-Nogales transmission line, but believes the commission now must be more creative in placing it.

"Our dilemma is: People who live in the area (where the line was to run) don't want electrical lines through their communities," he says. "Other groups are strongly opposed to the line going through rural areas, but it must go in one or the other."

He also points out the transmission line was not exclusively intended to serve future needs in Nogales, but had a bigger purpose. "It's not for local use only," Hatch-Miller says, "but for extending the multi-state electrical grid and for the long-term viability of the grid."

Incumbent Gleason offers another perspective on the transmission line while addressing Trasoff's contention the line doesn't need to be so large.

"Nogales will grow," he says, "and south of the border, there are tremendous coal deposits (which can generate electricity). Ultimately, it will bring cheap power to the Tucson area when the line carries 60 percent of its electricity south, and 40 percent north."

While the concept of deregulating the electrical industry, similar to what was done with telephone service, has been downplayed by many in the regulatory arena, Gleason still holds out hope. He favors "market restructuring," a concept that would offer whole communities the chance to put out bids for electrical service.

"This would be a fair stretch into the future," he says, "but competition is the best way to get the optimum price. I think most of the other commissioners will agree that competition in purchasing power is a good thing, but we'll need to get into a discussion on how to get there."

The 78-year-old former state legislator concludes by saying he believes his three decades of business experience combined with all he has learned over the past two years on the commission qualify him for another term.

First appointed to the commission in 1999 and then elected the following year, Mundell is the most outspoken critic of federal interference with the dealings of the agency. He says he doesn't want a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., deciding where a power plant is sited in Arizona and believes, "Decisions are best made at the lowest level of government."

Mundell stresses his previous environmental record in the state Legislature and points out that for environmental reasons, the commission did turn down two power plants, including one at Toltec. Additionally, he has a somewhat different perspective on the Nogales transmission line issue.

"Nogales has been suffering blackouts and brownouts and needs a solution," he stresses. "Anywhere else in the state (with those problems), we would not stand for it. We can't do nothing."

"No one wants transmission lines or power plants in their back yard," he adds, "but we must put them somewhere. One hundred thousand people a year are moving to Arizona."

But instead of returning to the idea of locating one large transmission line south from Tucson, the 51-year-old Mundell believes the commission should look at other alternatives. One of those, he says, should be distributive generation or a series of small, scattered power plants.

Democrat Mark Manoil is also a proponent of distributive generation, along with greater emphasis on conservation and the use of renewable resources.

"The continued growth of infrastructure (in Arizona) is inevitable," Manoil says, "but it should be based on sustainable systems which are more in keeping with the communities (where they are located)."

The 46-year-old Phoenix attorney calls the commission's decision to require 1.1 percent of electricity to be generated from alternative, non-traditional sources of energy "inadequate." Instead, he would like to see the figure be at least 3 percent within a few years, and be 20 percent by 2020.

He also criticizes the commission for approving gas-powered electrical plants in Arizona to serve the needs of California, calling it a big mistake. "We get more air pollution and ground water usage," Manoil says, "(in exchange) for a few jobs."

Asked why people should vote for him, Manoil replies, "I offer something very valuable, which is a political checks and balances on the Corporation Commission. That can be very healthy so we don't have group-think which passes its (regulatory control) over to those being regulated."

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