The recent op-ed in The Payson Roundup titled ‘Renewable Energy Prop 127— In a Nutshell’ by Paul Hirt made it sound like this 50% renewable mandate on our Arizona ballots might be a reasonable choice. The article offered a very basic and uninformed explanation of renewables and how Arizona uses energy. Maybe that’s expected to fit in a nutshell, but it’s important voters and electricity customers understand Prop 127 is reckless policy with severe consequences for customers and our state.
Prop 127 is not a ‘citizen initiative’
Mr. Hirt describes Prop 127 as a “citizen initiative” – nothing could be further from the truth. California billionaire Tom Steyer has led and funded this effort to change our Arizona Constitution, to the tune of $23 million and counting. Steyer doesn’t care about the people of Arizona or how the initiative would impact our lives and prosperity. If he did, he might have discussed the policy with us, the people of Arizona, before he developed the proposition and began paying to get it on the ballot and promote it with voters. Instead, he quietly formed a number of groups, many of which are not from Arizona, and began pushing his political agenda. I have discussed Prop 127 impacts with citizens from around Arizona who are often offended and upset that out-of-state interests are pushing this mandate; it only applies to ACC-regulated companies or about 60% of the state from an energy perspective, and will have devastating economic impacts on our state.
Let’s explore all options to reduce carbon
Mr. Hirt suggests, “Arizonans of all political persuasions love solar energy.” While I won’t speak for all Arizonans, we at APS are fans of solar and all renewables. We are moving toward a cleaner energy future where renewables play an important, but not exclusive, role. We want to keep sight of all clean-energy options -- from nuclear to solar to wind and other renewables -- so we use a diverse energy mix to provide reliable and affordable electric service to all of our customers. At APS, we believe in an inclusive approach to reducing carbon.
Renewables are certainly a big part of the mix as the second largest piece of our energy portfolio in terms of total capacity. Most of that is solar, and we have been harnessing Arizona’s abundant sunshine to power our customers for decades. In fact, in solar energy rankings, APS is #6 in the country among electricity companies, helping to make Arizona #3 nationally. We aren’t stopping there. We continue to add renewables such as a solar-with-battery-storage project with First Solar, which was the first of its kind.
Mr. Hirt claims that batteries are the solution to fill the gap when renewables aren’t producing. Battery technology is rapidly improving, and APS is optimistic that large batteries will soon be a bigger piece of the solution to our excess-energy challenges. However, Mr. Hirt failed to consider that APS would need to add more batteries than all the batteries deployed in the U.S. today just to balance our electric system under Prop 127. Customers would foot the bill for that.
Supply and demand
We need to make sure that we can deliver reliable and affordable power to our customers now and in the future. Today, that means natural gas is part of the solution. Why? We need resources that we can turn on and off to meet customers’ energy needs 24/7 year-round without putting too much power on the system during seasons when customers just don’t need much cooling and heating. Natural gas offers that “fast-on, fast-off” capability to balance the electric system real-time at an affordable price point.
The challenge of too much electricity is real. Today California has more energy than their customers can use certain times of day and year. On 150 days in 2017, California paid others to take excess energy they couldn’t use. Prop 127 would put APS in the same situation. Our customers would pay for more solar than they can use, and then pay customers elsewhere to take it. That’s because the structure of the mandate requires us to produce 50% of electric retail sales from renewables, even if our customers can’t use it. That also forces the early closure of Palo Verde Generating Station, the country’s largest energy producer – all of it carbon-free – because the plant is designed to run at full capacity year-round. Mr. Hirt suggests that we can just curtail solar or “simply” run Palo Verde less. First, if we curtail solar, we can’t meet the Prop 127 requirements without installing more renewable resources – leading to higher costs for customers. Second, there is not a simple way to turn Palo Verde on and off to make room for the midday solar production that would flood the electric grid with excess energy for months at a time.
Collaboration and flexibility are the path to ambitious goals
Finally, Mr. Hirt discusses entities that have proposed 100% renewable-energy targets, including corporations and the City of Tempe. Corporations with such admirable goals still rely on companies like APS to make sure the grid provides their energy in a reliable fashion whenever and wherever they need it. As for Tempe, Mr. Hirt failed to recognize that APS had the honor of serving on the city’s working group to help Tempe design its goal in a way that will maintain reliability and affordability. Ultimately, “the goal comes with a loose framework to allow for using the best new technology as it’s created at the discretion of the city,” as reported by The Phoenix Business Journal. This kind of collaboration and flexibility is how Arizona will best integrate higher levels of renewables and explore new options as they become available -- not mandates like Prop 127.
We are all working toward a cleaner energy future in Arizona, but a rigid mandate like Prop 127 is clearly bad public policy and far too costly for customers. We need to approach clean energy in a collaborative and flexible fashion to make sure we build an energy future for all customers and Arizonans. Vote NO on Prop 127 in favor of working together with your fellow Arizonans to build a cleaner energy future that is affordable, too.