With a solar manufacturing plant hanging in the balance, a Glendale Republican lawmaker has quietly dropped her bid to kill the requirement that utilities generate more of their power from renewable sources.
The move Thursday followed intense lobbying of legislators by business interests who said the proposal by Rep. Debbie Lesko would undermine Arizona's efforts to attract new solar firms to the state. And it comes less than two days after representatives of Suntech Power Holdings told lawmakers they likely would cancel their plans to build a facility in Goodyear to manufacture photovoltaic panels to generate electricity.
That created political ripples, particularly as Gov. Jan Brewer cited the decision of Suntech to come to Arizona in her State of the State speech last month.
Lesko did not return calls seeking comment. But House Majority Whip Andy Tobin, R-Paulden said her decision was entirely voluntary - sort of.
Tobin pointed out her original measure had 51 co-sponsors. He said Lesko understood that some of them were having second thoughts and might not be support the measure when HB 2701, which cleared the House Government Committee on Tuesday on a 5-2 vote, made it to the House floor.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, denied putting any pressure on her. But within hours of Lesko's decision, Adams released a statement reaffirming his commitment to both renewable energy "and solar in particular," citing other pending legislation to give tax breaks to energy companies that move or expand here.
Lesko's legislation was a direct attack on the mandate by the Arizona Corporation Commission that utilities must generate at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources. That includes wind, solar and geothermal.
She argued that the commission was usurping the power of the Legislature to set energy policy.
Her bill established a similar 15 percent renewable mandate. But it broadened the definition to also include both nuclear and hydro power.
Suntech lobbyist Polly Shaw testified the change would "gut''" the renewable energy requirement.
"It will obliterate demand for solar,'' she continued. More to the point, she said, the bill would "eliminate the reason we selected Arizona.''
That's because the commission standard includes a requirement that some of the power come from what's called "distributed generation,'' with individual customers installing photovoltaic solar cells on their homes and businesses and selling what they do not need to the utility.
Without that mandate, Shaw said, Arizonans won't snap up the solar panels Suntech plans to manufacture. And she said investors, who want "concrete market certainty'' the products will sell, will withdraw support.
Lawmakers are not the only ones not happy with the commission mandate. Some consumers have objected to the higher electric bills.
In enacting the mandate, commissioners acknowledged that renewable energy costs more to generate than power from nuclear, coal and natural gas. They agreed to let investor-owned utilities like Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power tack several dollars a month onto the bills of residential customers to help make up the difference, with higher bills for businesses.
APS lobbyist Marty Shultz said his company alone is collecting an extra $81 million a year.
Late Thursday Brewer issued a statement praising Lesko's "wise and thoughtful actions.''
"This sends a clear and united message to employers around the world Arizona remains the premier destination for solar industries,'' the governor said.