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Arizona amendment asks voters to choose whether utility commissioners should be appointed by the governor

Avatar for Ben Zientara
Published on 03/13/2020 in
Updated 03/13/2020
Arizona Corporation Commission HQ

A bill that would ask voters to implement a constitutional amendment allowing the Arizona governor to appoint utility commissioners is moving through the state House, and could be on the ballot in November. Arizona is currently one of 11 states that requires would-be commissioners to run for office and be elected by voters.

Critics of the current paradigm say it gives undue influence to utility companies and other entities that will have business before the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), a contention that isn’t without merits, as in the recent past, the state’s largest utility company spent more than $10 million on election-related activities.

That’s $10 million in ratepayer money, by the way. Part of your electric bills goes to paying for your utility to lobby and buy elections.

Jeff Guldner, the CEO of APS, has promised not to spend any more money on elections, but we’d trust that promise about as far as we could throw one of those big balanced rock formations Arizona is famous for.

A balanced rock formation at Chihuahua National Monument

By Brian W. SchallerOwn work, FAL, Link

What effect would the switch from elected to appointed Corporation Commissioners have?

We’d like to tell you that elected officials are better 100% of the time, and that’s the contention that many smart people are making in this battle. ((add smart links)) There is a provision in the bill for the AZ Senate to provide advice and consent to the governor when they appoint commissioner(s), and proponents of the bill claim this provision will prevent against governors falling under undue influence.

It’s also difficult to predict, because so few states currently elect their commissioners. Take a look at this map from Ballotpedia:

Map showing 11 states with elected PSC commissioners and 39 with appointed commissioners

The map above shows that just 11 states currently allow voters to elect commissioners to Public Service Commissions like the ACC. In all but two others, commissioners are appointed by the governor, and in the remaining two, the legislature is the body with the right to appoint.

We took a look at the states with elected PSC commissioners to see if there was any correlation to how good the state’s net metering laws might be. Here’s what we came up with (Net Metering Grades range from a high of 5 [A] to a low of 1 [F]):

StatePSC Elected or AppointedChosen bySPR Net Metering Grade
AlabamaElectedVoters1
AlaskaAppointedGovernor2.5
ArizonaElectedVoters3
ArkansasAppointedGovernor5
CaliforniaAppointedGovernor5
ColoradoAppointedGovernor5
ConnecticutAppointedGovernor1
DelawareAppointedGovernor5
FloridaAppointedGovernor4.5
GeorgiaElectedVoters4
HawaiiAppointedGovernor2
IdahoAppointedGovernor3.5
IllinoisAppointedGovernor4.5
IndianaAppointedGovernor4
IowaAppointedGovernor4.5
KansasAppointedGovernor1.5
KentuckyAppointedGovernor4.5
LouisianaElectedVoters3
MaineAppointedGovernor3.5
MarylandAppointedGovernor5
MassachusettsAppointedGovernor5
MichiganAppointedGovernor1
MinnesotaAppointedGovernor5
MississippiElectedVoters2
MissouriAppointedGovernor4.5
MontanaElectedVoters4
NebraskaElectedVoters4.5
NevadaAppointedGovernor5
New HampshireAppointedGovernor5
New JerseyAppointedGovernor5
New MexicoElectedVoters4.5
New YorkAppointedGovernor4.5
North CarolinaAppointedGovernor4
North DakotaElectedVoters2
OhioAppointedGovernor5
OklahomaElectedVoters1
OregonAppointedGovernor5
PennsylvaniaAppointedGovernor4
Rhode IslandAppointedGovernor5
South CarolinaAppointedLegislature4
South DakotaElectedVoters1
TennesseeAppointedGovernor2.5
TexasAppointedGovernor3
UtahAppointedGovernor4
VermontAppointedGovernor4.5
VirginiaAppointedLegislature4
WashingtonAppointedGovernor4.5
Washington DCAppointedMayor5
West VirginiaAppointedGovernor5
WisconsinAppointedGovernor2
WyomingAppointedGovernor4.5

As you can if you sort the table, by the “Elected or Appointed” column, the states with PSC elections actually tend to have pretty low grades for net metering. The average for states with appointed PSC commissioners is a solid “B” at 4.05, while the average for states with elected commissioners is a high “D+” at 2.73.

This of course isn’t predictive of a positive turn of events in the case that Arizona voters should decide to cede the right to appoint commissioners to the governor, but it should be a wakeup call to people in those states with PSC elections: if you care about expanding solar (and 92% of people do), vote for commissioners who promise to do that. Don’t just vote for the ones getting the most money backing them, who usually get that money from the utility companies they seek to regulate.

If you don’t engage in your democratic right to vote for PSC commissioners, you might as well give that right away to the governor.

Last modified: March 13, 2020

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