Backers of Prop 127, the ballot initiative that would increase Arizona’s use of renewable energy, are calling for an independent investigation of the conduct of Attorney General Mark Brnovich and his office after revelations last week that one of Brnovich’s deputies edited the language that will describe the initiative to voters.

Brnovich aide Brunn Roysden inserted the phrase “irrespective of costs to customers” into the description of the initiative that voters will read, among other changes.

Roysden sent those edits to Elections Director Eric Spencer of the Secretary of State’s office, who had drafted the original language and sent it to the Attorney General’s office for approval on August 21. Spencer noted that the ballots would be printed on Aug. 30. Roysden waited until the day before then, Aug. 29, to reply with his edits. In an email back, Spencer called the edits “eyebrow-raising” since they were “exogenous” to the initiative itself.

“I’m sure you’ve calculated the legal and political risks of adding that,” Spencer added.

The email exchange became public as a result of public record requests filed by the initiative’s backers, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, with the Secretary of State’s office.

A key aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich inserted edits to the language describing Prop 127 for voters which aligned with utility APS' position on the initiative.

A key aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich inserted edits to the language describing Prop 127 for voters.

The Secretary of State’s office responded to that record request within hours, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona said. The Attorney General’s office has not yet responded to the same request for its records relating to the initiative.

In a letter calling for an independent investigation, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona called Roysden’s edits “biased,” and noted that Brnovich has been the beneficiary of massive campaign contributions from the parent company of Arizona’s largest monopoly utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), which is funding the opposition to Prop 127.

“Based on records released so far from the Secretary, we demand an independent investigation, by outside or independent counsel to review your office’s actions when drafting the biased Proposition 127 language,” Jim Barton, the group’s attorney, wrote to Brnovich and O.H. Skinner, Chief of Government Accountability and Special Litigation Unit in the Attorney General’s office.

“The integrity of your office and public confidence in voters’ fundamental right to initiative is at stake.”

APS has spent over $11 million opposing the initiative as of the last campaign finance period. The utility plans on building gas plants, rather than investing in renewable energy as required by the initiative, which would set a 50% renewable energy standard for it and other investor-owned utilities.

APS has been a major donor to Brnovich

Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, which owns APS, contributed $425,000 to efforts to elect Brnovich in 2014, plus another $50,000 this cycle. Pinnacle West CEO Don Brandt gave Brnovich’s campaign $2,500 last October. Four years ago, an Arizona Republic columnist, Laurie Roberts, suggested that APS’ largesse for Brnovich might prove useful if the company needed help to avoid renewable energy requirements:

So if a utility (let’s say APS) wanted to get out from under what it considered an onerous set of rules (let’s say the ones that eventually require it to meet a certain renewable-energy standard), it might want a certain candidate (let’s say Brnovich) sitting in the catbird seat.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona also raised suspicions in its letter about the fact that the same “irrespective of cost to customers” language appeared in ads from a proxy group for APS within days of the ballot language being made public.

In a comment to the AP, Brnovich spokesperson Ryan Anderson said that “it’s offensive to suggest anyone else on the outside had any influence on this.”

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona noted in its letter that if Anderson could respond with such certainty that no outside parties like APS had any influence on Roysden’s edits, then the office should have no problem disclosing any documents which respond to the public records request. Arizona statute requires state agencies to “promptly respond” to records requests.

Studies debunk APS cost claims

The “irrespective of costs to customers” implies that costs would rise if the initiative passes, a claim which APS has pumped millions of dollars of television ads into bolstering. But what would a higher renewable energy standard actually do to costs?

APS bases its argument that Prop 127 would harm schools by causing electricity rates to increase, often citing a study from Arizona State University that arrived at that conclusion – APS financed that study and provided the data and assumptions for it.

Advocates of Prop 127 say costs would go down, pushing back with a study from the Natural Resources Defense Council which says that the measure would save Arizonans more than $4 billion.

More broadly, independent studies on the effects of renewable standards on rates do not support APS’ claims that rates would double if Prop 127 passes. Academic studies and analyses from Department of Energy labs have generally shown that renewable portfolio standards like Prop 127 do not cause rates to significantly increase. Studies that counted the benefits of renewable standards have found that they outweighed any costs.

Posted by David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is the Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute.