Commissioner’s Investigation of APS Anti-Solar Spending a Display of Leadership

Kevin Hengehold November 2, 2013 0

These moments are sadly a rarity – when partisan differences are put aside and Arizonans of every political strip can applaud an elected official boldly representing the interests of constituents.

Arizona had one of those moments yesterday when news broke that Republican Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns will investigate an anti-solar advertising blitz financed by Arizona Public Service (APS), our state’s largest electric utility. In a letter to APS, Burns requested previously-withheld details of the company’s exorbitant spending on a campaign to dismantle Arizona’s rooftop solar program, called “net metering”.

Photo source Phoenix NewTimes

Photo source Phoenix New Times

Burns is forcing APS to disclose information it had thus-far successfully evaded from leaking to Arizona’s press corps.

“I am concerned that ratepayer money might be funding these campaigns, whether through expenditures that the utilities will seek to recover in future rate cases or through person hours worked by individuals whose salaries are paid by ratepayers,” Burns said in his letter to the utility.

As a government-supported monopoly utility, APS enjoys a “captured” customer base. Those who live in APS territory are required to send their monthly utility check to APS. This grants the utility an excessive level of power and influence – which we now know it enjoys wielding as it sees fit. Article 15 of Arizona’s constitution created the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) as the regulatory body that would keep the state’s utilities in-check, ensuring they could not “milk” ratepayers unnecessarily.

The findings of Burns’ investigation may uncover just how far the ACC has allowed APS to stray.

In October, the Arizona Republic uncovered a proposal presented to APS by Lincoln Strategy Group that involved the utility funding two fake-grassroots campaigns that would create conditions in which the structure of the Commission would change – to the utility’s benefit. APS submitted a request for the proposal, according to Nathan Sproul, owner of Lincoln Strategy Group.

Although the plan was never executed, the two employees of Lincoln Strategy Group who put the proposal together were subsequently hired by APS, and APS’s active funding of “dark-money” anti-solar groups “Prosper” and “60-Plus Association” is similar in nature to Lincoln Strategy Group’s proposal.

These revelations, along with APS’s unrelenting marketing budget, its far-reaching influence via generous donations to everything from Chamber of Commerce groups to mom-and-pop charities, its aggressive lobbying presence at the state legislature and elsewhere, and the key role it plays in campaign contributions, leave this Arizonan wondering why our state’s largest electric utility can’t just do what it’s meant to do. Deliver electricity to customers.

A novel idea, I know. But apparently not to Commissioner Bob Burns.

Burns and his colleagues should take the next step and start trimming the fat at a bloated utility that has clearly lost its fiscal compass. I hope they do so well before APS comes before the Commission requesting its next rate increase from customers.