Power and Growth

The Democratic Corporation Commission candidates all support renewable-energy standards—to varying degrees

Two Tucson-area state legislators who have reached their term limits are competing in the Democratic Arizona Corporation Commission primary with a former ACC member from Phoenix.

The top two vote-getters will earn spots on the November general-election ballot.

David Bradley served in the Arizona House from District 28 for eight years and has been CEO of local nonprofit La Paloma Family Services, Inc., for almost two decades.

Bradley says he's running for the ACC because "it's all about the future of Arizona," and he thinks he has a good plan for the state's utility services.

Jorge Luis Garcia has served for eight years in the Arizona Senate from District 27. He indicates he's seeking a seat on the five-member ACC board "because I'm extremely concerned about the (renewable-energy) standards and if they'll stay around."

After earning a law degree from Arizona State University, Renz Jennings now operates a small farm south of Phoenix. He was in the state Legislature for three terms, and was a member of the ACC for 14 years—and wants to serve again.

Jennings says he initiated the state's renewable-energy standards in 1996, and also expresses worry about what will happen to them in the future.

Those standards require regulated electrical utility companies to increase renewable-energy generation from the current requirement of 1 percent to 15 percent by 2025.

The candidates differ on whether they think the goal is too low, or just about right.

Jennings says he thinks the standards can be increased, but he's not sure about the impacts of that possibility.

"We can build a lot of that," he says of solar power, "but have to be mindful of its impact on rates."

Bradley favors achieving the 15 percent standard as quickly as possible—and once it's approached, he says, it can then be increased.

Bradley also thinks the ACC should examine the power grid in Western states and make it less vulnerable to outages.

Garcia says that the renewable-energy standards are too low.

"Renewable energy is something consumers want," he says during an interview. "I'm not adverse to making (the implementation) date sooner or expanding the percentage, but I need to look at it."

Garcia elaborated on that position in a candidate debate last week, when he said, without reservation, that he favors either making the implementation date sooner, or taking the percentage to a much higher level.

Another ongoing ACC issue—which has been controversial in Southern Arizona for years—regards the location of new major transmission lines to carry electricity. However, each candidate offers only a vague answer when asked how to deal with the current SunZia Southwest Transmission Project proposal.

The SunZia line would carry wind- and solar-generated electricity across New Mexico and Arizona, and one proposed route takes the line through the San Pedro River Valley and the Avra Valley. The route is opposed by some living in the areas.

"We need to make sure sensitive (environmental) areas are protected," Garcia says. "Transmission lines are a big issue."

Jennings states: "If they have tremendous impacts on the environment, don't build them." But he also acknowledges that Arizona will need more electricity in the future.

When asked about the proposal, Bradley mentions increasing distributive energy, which would decrease the need for major transmission lines. But he adds: "Getting those monsters (power-line towers) to be environmentally friendly in appearance needs to be hammered out."

In his campaign literature, Bradley writes that "the future of our state will include continued growth that will result in at least a tripling of our population over the next few decades." When asked about that declaration, he says those population-growth numbers—which impact many ACC decisions—may be a "moving target."

"Regardless of its pace, growth is inevitable," Bradley says, "but how do we pay for it?"

Garcia says he isn't as optimistic about the state's future growth as Bradley, especially in rural areas. He says that the ACC needs to make sure laws about assured water supplies have "teeth."

While Jennings says he thinks Arizona will grow dramatically, he believes factors like climate change could influence the growth rate.

At the same time, he lauds the "modular" aspect of solar-power generation to meet future electrical needs. "Every potential building and parking lot is a site for a small solar power plant," he says.

Jennings thinks his past service on the commission, and a decrease in the cost of electricity during those years, are two reasons why Democratic primary voters should choose him.

"I believe Arizona would benefit from my comprehensive understanding of how to get the job done," he says. "I'm practical and innovative."

Bradley cites both his political and work experience as reasons for voters to support him.

"I know what it's like to be regulated," he says. "I see government and business as partners, not enemies."

Garcia also cites his experience as a reason for voters to choose him.

"I've served Southern Arizona well," Garcia says, "including a leadership role in the Senate. I study issues and listen to both sides and will continue to do that if elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission."

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