Arizona’s Energy Politics: What Your Power Bill is Paying For

Kevin Hengehold June 14, 2013 1


A popular argument for net metering is that solar energy provides choice to energy consumers. If you live in a state with vertically integrated utilities (in Arizona, we do), if you don’t like your utility’s energy source, you can change it by installing solar panels on your rooftop.

But while the energy flows to the customer’s house, money, in the form of the customer’s bill, flows toward the utility.  And that’s when it starts to go to work in the political sphere.

So what is your bill doing?  Well, Pinnacle West Capital, the holding company for APS, spent nearly $500,000 contributing to candidates in the last election cycle.  The biggest recipient was Jeff Flake, who received $35,500.  Flake has voted to open the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling and to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses.

The political donations didn’t all remain in state; George Allen, a Republican Senate candidate from Virginia, received $18,250.

This guy.  Your money.

Unisource Energy , the holding company for Tucson Electric Power and Unisource Energy Services, spent $100,000 lobbying in the last election cycle.  That money, funneled through the lobbying firm Brownstein, Hyatt et al, was used to lobby for the Regional Haze Federalism Act, which would have weakened portions of the Clean Air Act.  With the current fight over cleaning up haze over the Grand Canyon possibly costing the Navajo Generating Station up to $1 Billion, this issue has significant local impacts on air quality and public health for Arizonans.

The Salt River Project contributed more than $148,000 to candidates in the 2012 election cycle.  Jeff Flake received the most from them as well, raking in $11,750.  A notable out-of-state recipient is Fred Upton, who received $7,000.  Upton is the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  In 2010 he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed declaring “carbon is not a problem in need of regulation” and he led a campaign against the implementation of energy efficiency standards he originally co-sponsored.

During that same year, SRP spent $680,000 lobbying on energy issues.  These efforts targeted 51 separate bills, mostly focused on weakening regulations.

I would wager most Arizonans want to breathe clean air.  At present, that’s mostly an aspiration, with several counties failing the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Assessment.  In spite of this, all of the major utilities lobbied in favor of weakening the Clean Air Act through the Regional Haze Federalism Act.

I have to stress, again, that these utilities are granted monopoly reign over their territories.  This means that there is no way to not to pay them for your energy, short of moving or going off-grid.

Programs such as net metering have been touted as a means of self-reliance, generating your own energy and not relying on the utility to power your life.  It would seem that it is also an act of self-determination, where every dollar you avoid giving to your utility depletes their political war chest, however slightly, and gives you the freedom to decide how your money will shape the political landscape.