Sun Enough?

Corporation Commission candidates ponder renewable energy--and securities fraud

The Democrats--Sam George, Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman--running for three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) bill themselves as the "Solar Team."

Their Republican opponents--Marian McClure, Bob Stump and Barry Wong--emphasize a more diverse portfolio of energy sources to supply Arizona with the affordable electricity it will need in the future.

Less than one percent of the state's electrical power is provided from renewable sources such as solar, wind and biomass materials. Instead, almost all of Arizona's electricity is generated using coal, natural gas or nuclear energy.

After five years of deliberations, in 2006 the ACC voted to change that situation when it adopted a renewable energy standard. Even though these sources are presently more expensive than other fuels, this mandate requires public utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2025.

While controversial in Arizona, this standard is modest when compared to other southwestern states. California has a goal of 20 percent by 2010, Nevada's is 20 percent by 2015, and New Mexico has set a target of 20 percent by 2020.

After earlier being somewhat ambivalent about the renewable energy standard, Stump now says the 15 percent figure is just right and he looks forward to defending it. "I believe we'll meet the standard before 2025," he adds.

The 37-year old Stump also stresses that the state needs a balanced portfolio of energy sources to protect consumers from substantial rate hikes. "If we concentrate on one source," he says, "raising rates (becomes a problem)."

Calling global climate change "the biggest challenge our civilization faces," 46-year-old George focuses on the impact encouraging the use of solar energy can have on Arizona's economy. "We're losing jobs now to California and Nevada," he says.

George also points out that the way to truly achieve a balanced energy portfolio is to increase the use of solar power.

"We don't have to add to nuclear, coal or natural gas," he says. Instead, "we should push the envelope" about encouraging the use of renewable energy.

While not naming names, the 66-year-old McClure does express reservations about the role the Democrats say they will play concerning solar energy and other issues if elected to the ACC.

"Some of the others in the race," McClure says, "are trying to broaden the (Arizona constitution's) role of the commission. I find that troubling."

For his part, Newman believes much more needs to be done about encouraging energy efficiency and conservation. "If we had greater energy efficiencies," Newman says, "we wouldn't have to build as many power plants."

Stressing that only a small amount is spent on the promotion of saving energy in Arizona when compared to nearby states, the 54-year-old Newman thinks the use of "Smart Meters," which show actual cost of service by households, must be pursued more vigorously.

"With a Democratic majority," he says of the ACC, "we could make the utility companies spend more money on energy efficiency. I want to put a fire in their bellies."

Wong believes encouraging the use of more renewable energy should keep consumer costs down. "It will help stabilize the continuing increase in the cost of fossil fuels," he says.

In addition to the 15 percent goal, the state's renewable standard requires 30 percent of this energy to be provided by "distributed" sources, such as rooftop solar panels. Wong indicates he is comfortable with that concept.

"The discussion on solar farms," Wong, 49, says of the alternative to distributed sources, "hasn't focused on transmission lines. The farms must be near the lines, or there will be substantial costs involved."

While the Republicans talk about the need for a balanced energy portfolio in Arizona, Kennedy sees the philosophical difference in the race in stark terms.

"The Democrats are talking solar and wind power," the 48-year-old remarks, "while the Republicans are talking nuclear. I don't think Arizona wants more nuclear power."

Kennedy also points out that it has been a long time since a Democrat has served on the commission. "People are tired of one-party rule," she declares.

While the candidates are split over the emphasis the ACC should give to solar energy, they all agree it should take a more active role in pursuing securities fraud.

Kennedy says the ACC has done only 74 security fraud investigations in the last 20 years and wonders why that number is so low. "There's something wrong somewhere with that," she says.

Like a few of the other candidates, Kennedy also supports having the commission's Securities Division perform audits on brokers. "The ACC needs to be proactive," she says.

Citing a personal experience she once had with an unscrupulous broker, McClure calls securities fraud prevention "one of my passions." She says of brokers like this, "They should be hung out to dry."

No one she knows, McClure says, understands that the ACC plays a role in security fraud cases. "A lot more can be done in this area," she says, "with more emphasis on how people can report problems."

Stump agrees, and like all the other candidates, proposes that more money be directed to the Securities Division. Once that is done, he says, outreach programs aimed particularly at senior citizens should be pursued.

George goes further, believing information on how to report possible securities fraud should begin by being distributed at the broker level. He suggests they could be required to disclose where someone can go to report a potential problem.

But while securities fraud is an issue in the ACC race, the campaign is much more about renewable energy.

"The Solar Team is running on a common platform," Newman says of the Democrats. "Arizona can be a solar exporter. ... The ACC needs to be a leader (on solar energy) and it's not."

"The Republicans support renewable energy," Wong observes, "but also understand that the role of the ACC is more than just solar energy. ... Voters will get a better, more well-rounded group with the Republicans."