Arizona Public Service’s efforts to extend its influence over the state’s politicians is reaching into even progressive circles of the state’s politics, despite the fact that the monopoly utility is working against values like clean energy growth and climate action.

Emerge Arizona, a group whose mission is to increase the number of Democratic women leaders in public office, is hosting a meet-and-greet with its 2018 candidates on May 24th. The event is sponsored by Arizona Public Service (APS), which recently gave $100,000 to the Arizona Republican Party, yet only $1,000 to the Arizona Democratic Party through its parent company, Pinnacle West. For the 2018 election cycle, Pinnacle West has given a total of $155,000 and $2,000 to the state Republican Party and Democratic Party, respectively.

Emerge Arizona’s vision is, “To change the face of power, politics, and leadership in this country in order to have policies that are responsive to all Americans.” The group’s web site reads, “As the number of elected Democratic women remains flat or even declines, the need for our work is growing.” With women comprising 22% of the utility workforce, compared to 47% nationwide in other industries, Emerge’s vision seems especially needed in the energy sector.

The sponsorship is drawing criticism from progressives.

“It’s no secret that APS/Pinnacle West spent millions of dollars on the campaigns of those who now regulate them, as well as those who can do their bidding at the State Legislature,” said Stacey Champion, a progressive activist who has filed an appeal against APS’ rate case in front of the Arizona Corporation Commission. “The Arizona Corporation Commission approved what I and thousands of others believe to be an unjust and unjustified $95 million+ rate hike last year, which is having dire affects on thousands of Arizona residents who are forced to choose between buying groceries or paying their exorbitant power bill.”

This year, the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona ballot initiative is attempting to require APS and other utilities to source 50% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2030. The current requirement is 15% by 2025. APS instead has shown its preference for continued investment in gas plants and is engaging in an array of activities intended to confuse voters and create escape valves for APS if the initiative passes.

APS admitted to crafting legislation that would limit financial penalties for utilities who fail to meet renewable energy standards if voters decide to increase them in November. Although it didn’t make it through the legislative session, APS also filed its own competing ballot initiative that is identical to that of Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, except for the large loophole that allowed the ACC to ignore the constitutional amendment if it finds fault with it in a variety of loosely defined terms.

This is a pivotal year for progressive energy reform in Arizona with the Arizona Corporation Commission elections, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona’s ballot initiative, Commissioner Tobin’s Grid Modernization Plan, and plans for the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) transition. Emerge Arizona claims to support tomorrow’s progressive leaders, but the APS sponsorship creates at least the perception that the organization could become beholden to APS’ agenda of dirty energy and corruption.

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Posted by Charlotte Grubb

Charlotte is a Research and Communications Manager for EPI. Before joining EPI, Charlotte was the staff economist for three years at Oceana, where she provided economic analysis for marine habitat and fisheries policy and mentored staff in campaign strategy. Her work included a global report on the economic potential of well-managed fisheries. Prior to Oceana, Charlotte has worked on farms, for USAID contractors, and also lived in East Africa for two years working on forestry and wildlife management issues. She has also spent substantial time supporting frontline communities in the US against pipelines. She has published work in technical reports, newspapers, and academic journals. Charlotte earned a Master’s in Ecological Economics from the University of Edinburgh and a B.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University.

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