According to Arizona campaign finance quarterly reports that were filed last month, Arizona Public Service’s parent company, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, contributed $1.18 million to Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, a political action committee (PAC). The PAC opposes Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona’s proposed ballot initiative, which would require APS to source 50% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2030. The current requirement is 15% by 2025.

As of May 1, 2018, Pinnacle West is the sole contributor to Arizonans For Affordable Electricity, a group supposedly supported by Arizonans. Ironically, the organization has attacked Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona for just receiving money from Tom Steyer. Top retweets of Arizonans for Affordable Electricity include APS employees Katie Prendergast and Michael Vargas. 

Arizonans For Affordable Electricity has then sent most of its Pinnacle West cash to Arizona Petition Partners, but also has hired Ragan LLC and Veridus LLC for consultant work. Veridus is a lobbying and PR firm headed by Matt Benson.

The campaign finance reports also reveal that Pinnacle West recently contributed $100,000 to the Arizona Republican Party, yet only $1,000 to the Arizona Democratic Party. The donations bring the corporation’s total contributions for the 2018 election cycle to $155,000 and $2,000 to the state Republican Party and Democratic Party, respectively.

APS’ opposition to the renewable energy standard ballot initiative has led the utility to work with Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation to shield itself from a possible vote come November. House Bill 2005, amended to include language to thwart the ballot measure, was crafted by APS. It sets the penalty for non-compliance with the proposed renewable energy standard between $100-$5,000. Governor Ducey (R) quickly signed it into law, however, it is still being debated for its legality.

APS is also pushing a counter-ballot measure – “Clean and Affordable Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment” – which is identical except for the loophole that allows the Arizona Corporation Commission, which has generally voted in APS’ interests, to ignore the constitutional amendment if it finds fault with it in a variety of broadly defined ways. Senator John Kavanagh (R) introduced this bill, which passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a 16-11 party-line vote, and is currently in the Republican-controlled House.

Additionally, Pinnacle West recently made public its Political Participation Policy report, which highlights several organizations, PACs, and political parties that received millions of dollars in 2017 from the corporation.

According to the report, Pinnacle West contributed $3.2 million to Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy, the highest contribution they made to an organization in 2017. Matt Benson of Veridus is the spokesperson for Arizonans for Sustainable Energy Policy and has been vocal in opposing the ballot initiative. Benson is also the spokesperson for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity – another campaign funded by APS and Pinnacle West to oppose the clean energy proposal.

2017 Pinnacle West independent expenditures to PACs

In addition to PAC and party spending by Pinnacle West, APS is funding various legislators who are speaking out against the initiative, and the utility also commissioned Arizona State University to write a study claiming economic disaster if voters approved of a 50% renewable energy standard. As the Energy and Policy Institute previously detailed, the results of the utility-funded ASU study run counter to many acclaimed studies that have not been funded by the monopoly utilities they affect.

Professor Wes Hersche, a Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Global Security Initiative at ASU, studied the effect on rates of Renewable Portfolio Standards like the one proposed in the ballot initiative. In a peer-reviewed study which Hersche summarized in a Medium post, he found no correlation between renewable portfolio standards and customers’ rates. The study APS funded has not been peer-reviewed.

A Department of Energy lab has also studied whether renewable energy standards impact electric rates, finding that the benefits of the policies outweigh the costs. The DOE lab’s most recent study from 2017 found that “RPS costs … equates to 1.6% of average retail electricity bills in RPS states.” That study did not consider the benefits of an RPS on health, but other DOE studies like this one from 2016 did measure those economic benefits and found that they outweighed any costs.

A forward-looking study, which was peer-reviewed and published in Environmental Research Letters in September, modeled the effects of more aggressive RPS increases and found that even in the most conservative scenarios modeled, the air quality-related economic benefits of renewable standards alone outweighed the costs.

Posted by Charlotte Grubb

Charlotte was a Research and Communications Manager at the Energy and Policy Institute. Prior to EPI, she was the staff economist for three years at Oceana, where she provided economic analysis for marine habitat and fisheries policy and mentored staff on campaign strategies. She has published work in newspapers, academic journals and technical reports. 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.