Sustainable Successes

A tip of the hat to the former Corporation Commission chair, Republican Kris Mayes

While some Arizona politicians are doing their best to turn the clock back to the 19th century, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) has been working to pull the state's utility companies into the 21st century.

Kris Mayes, a Republican who recently retired as the ACC chair, in large part led this effort.

"I hope people think (I was) hard-working and had a vision for where Arizona should be this century on water and energy issues," she says of her more than seven years on the ACC. "I hope I provided leadership on these critical issues. I worked to make the state a leader on energy, and we've taken some big strides. Arizona is viewed nationally as a leader."

The two primary achievements Mayes and other supporters point to are the renewable-energy standard, and the energy-efficiency standard.

The latter was adopted last July and requires regulated utility companies to achieve "20 percent cumulative annual energy savings by 2020."

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, adoption of this program vaulted Arizona from 29th to 18th in its ranking of states for energy efficiency. At the same time, the group recognized the state in 2010 as having "taken the greatest strides toward an energy-efficient future."

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), a public-interest organization, awarded Mayes and the ACC its 2010 Leadership in Energy Efficiency Award for approving the program.

In a press release after the award was announced, ACC commissioner Paul Newman remarked: "I appreciate the leadership of Chairman Mayes and the hard work of staff and SWEEP to make this happen."

The energy-efficiency standard complements the renewable-energy standard adopted by the ACC in 2006. It requires publicly regulated utility companies to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. In addition, 30 percent of the goal must be achieved from distributive energy sources, such as rooftop solar collectors.

To finance the partial conversion from nonrenewable sources like coal and natural gas to renewable sources such as solar and wind, the ACC allowed utility companies to impose a small monthly fee on their ratepayers. At present, customers of Tucson Electric Power Company pay $3.20 monthly for this tariff.

While some members of the state Legislature have criticized the renewable standard, and the Goldwater Institute has filed a so-far-unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn it, four years ago, The Arizona Republic praised Mayes and two of her colleagues for their foresight in voting to enact it.

Even before the commission finally approved it, Mayes was calling the standard "the greatest accomplishment in the history of the ACC. It marks the beginning of the end of the reliance on fossil fuels (in Arizona)."

The standard sets Arizona apart from many other states. Today, only about half of U.S. states have a renewable-energy standard.

Despite skepticism by some, Mayes thinks the overall 15 percent renewable goal will be met by 2025. "The utility companies are on track to meet it," she says, "and a couple (including Arizona Public Service in Maricopa County) will go beyond it."

As for Tucson Electric Power, Mayes is less certain. "I think TEP probably will meet the goal," she says.

Four years ago, Mayes was critical of the local utility company's commitment to renewable energy. As she commented, "The sky is always falling for TEP."

But there have been changes made by the company since then, including the hiring a new CEO, Paul Bonavia.

"TEP has come a long way (since 2006) based on some of the things Bonavia has said," Mayes says. "I'm taking a cautiously optimistic view of them, because their culture has changed somewhat."

With almost 80 percent of its power produced by burning coal, the Tucson utility "is squarely in the (Environmental Protection Agency's) bull's-eye," Mayes believes.

Based on that, Mayes says: "Of all the utility companies in Arizona, TEP should be working the hardest to diversify its energy portfolio. It's not fair to the ratepayers not to do as much renewable energy (as possible)."

As for the renewable-energy distributive requirement of 30 percent, Mayes rejects the argument that it's a waste of both money and focus, since large solar farms could produce the energy more efficiently and economically.

"Both (of those approaches) have their place," Mayes says about large and small renewable-energy generators. She adds that rooftop systems have certain unsung benefits, such as reducing the need for new transmission lines.

"It's special and unique," Mayes says about the renewable-energy standard, "and combined with the energy-efficiency standards, will put more power in the hands of the average consumer than in any other state. They will help stabilize rates and give choices (to consumers)."

To those who oppose the renewable-energy standard, Mayes says: "Most Arizonans believe we should be doing this. It has huge benefits for both consumers and utility companies. This is good for Arizona."

After she was term-limited out of the ACC, Mayes declined to run for another public office, and instead went in another direction: She has been appointed head of the program on law and sustainability at the Arizona State University law school.

"I don't think it's necessarily healthy to stay in politics forever," she says. "But maybe someday down the road ... ."

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