Ability to alter utility policies already exists
A proposal in the Arizona Legislature to give state lawmakers final authority over Arizona Corporation Commission decisions could set up constitutional battle in the state.
The measure (HB 2789) was given initial approval Tuesday by the House Government Committee. It is in reaction to policies of the ACC that require Arizona utilities to put greater emphasis on more costly renewable energy sources and to conserve energy.
The utilities commission gave the power companies the ability to charge a surcharge to customers to cover the additional cost of generating at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2025. The surcharge has generated protests, especially from business customers who can be charged more.
One result of the policy is an increased emphasis on solar energy in the state, both in the terms of generating sites being built by utilities and individual solar arrays on buildings that receive subsidies.
The measure to give legislators final say over future policy decisions by the ACC may be popular in some quarters, but it would likely face legal challenges if it becomes law.
The corporation commission is a separately elected agency with sole authority under the Arizona Constitution to regulate utilities. Giving another elected body — the Legislature — final decision power appears to be a clear violation, at least in the way the proposed law seeks to do it.
It the lawmakers want to do this, it should come in the form of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters.
But the best approach would be to simply leave the ACC as it is. As with any elected body, the voters have the ability to change the policy direction of the body by electing new members of the five-member body. That already creates the necessary checks and balances without legislative interference.