Southwest Gas gave thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers last month, ahead of those legislators’ introduction this week of a new bill that would benefit the gas company by preventing Arizona towns and cities from enacting building codes that would reduce their reliance on gas in favor of electricity.

The gas utility, which is headquartered in Delaware and sells gas to more than 2 million customers in Arizona, Nevada, and California, contributed $3,500 to Fann’s campaign on December 13, 2019, according to Arizona Secretary of State records. Three days later, Southwest Gas gave $3500 to Bowers’ campaign as well. Southwest Gas also gave another $1000 to Fann’s campaign in October 2019, and the company’s political action committee gave another $1000 to Bower’s campaign in June 2019.

Those contributions made Southwest Gas the largest contributor to both Fann and Bowers in 2019. Fann is the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, while Bowers is the prime sponsor of the House bill, which will be discussed during a meeting of the Committee on Natural Resources, Energy, & Water next week. The bill would block towns and cities in Arizona from adopting a ban on gas connections for new homes and businesses, among other measures.

Southwest Gas also doubled its spending on Arizona elections during the last election, compared to earlier elections. Records compiled by the National Institute on Money in Politics show that Southwest Gas gave $49,802 to Arizona candidates and committees during the 2018 election cycle, compared to $25,650 during the 2016 elections and $24,206 in the 2014 elections.

One major question is whether Arizona’s electric utilities will oppose the bill. As part of its announcement of a new 100% clean energy goal this week, Arizona Public Service Company highlighted that “Electrification will drive a cleaner environment and more energy-efficient operations throughout the economy.”

In its most recent 10-k filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Southwest Gas notes that electric utilities are its “principal competitors.”

Electric utilities are the principal competitors of Southwest for the residential and small commercial markets throughout its service areas. Competition for space heating, general household, and small commercial energy needs generally occurs at the initial installation phase when the customer/builder typically makes the decision as to which type of equipment to install and operate. The customer will generally continue to use the chosen energy source for the life of the equipment. Southwest interfaces directly with the various home builders and commercial property developers in its service territories to ensure that natural gas appliances are considered in new developments and commercial centers.

In addition to the proposed bill in Arizona, gas utilities in the Western U.S. are pursuing public relations campaigns against electrification efforts.  

Last month the Seattle Times reported that gas utility companies plan to spend $1 million on a public relations campaign in Oregon and Washington in an effort to block towns and cities in the Pacific Northwest from adopting bans on new gas connections:

The gas companies are forming a coalition of unions, businesses and consumer groups to tout the benefits of natural gas and to help “prevent or defeat” initiatives that inhibit its use, according to internal industry documents obtained by The Seattle Times. They’re calling the coalition “Partners for Energy Progress,” and a public launch is scheduled next year.

The planning documents provide a window into the industry’s broader effort to ensure that natural gas continues to be piped into American homes and other buildings, even as municipal and state governments grapple with how to combat climate change.

A Los Angeles Times investigation last year revealed that Southern California Gas Company was also funding a campaign against electrification efforts in California.

Posted by Joe Smyth

Joe Smyth is a Research and Communications Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.