The outcome of the Republican primary fight for Arizona Corporation Commission could determine whether utilities have to purchase more expensive renewable energy - and whether their customers have to pick up the tab.
Four of the contenders for the three open seats said they would repeal the "renewable energy standard" that state utility regulators approved three years ago. By 2025, 15 percent of all electricity sold in Arizona is to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal instead of coal, nuclear or natural gas.
GOP contender and Buckeye resident Keith Swapp said there's nothing wrong with suggesting that utilities look at alternatives and encourage their customers to use more of them. But he said that should be strictly voluntary rather than "pulling money out of the taxpayers' pockets."
Swapp is running a joint campaign with Rick Fowlkes of Mesa and Joseph Hobbs of Avondale, who also have pledged to scrap the mandate.
If all three are elected, they would control the five-member panel, leaving incumbents Kris Mayes and Gary Pierce, both of whom supported the mandate, in the minority.
Another candidate, former state Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he is no fan of the mandate.
That has alarmed Mayes, who has been a prime proponent of renewable energy - solar, in particular.
"It boggles the mind," she said, calling the idea of rescinding the requirement "a ridiculous notion."
Three state lawmakers also are running as part of a package - Reps. Bob Stump, R-Peoria, Bob Robson, R-Chandler, and Marian McClure, R-Tucson. Stump said he wants to keep the mandate in place, at least for now.
"We are open to looking at that should the economy go south," and the costs to consumers become unacceptable, he said. But he called it "shortsighted" for any candidate to say up front that the mandate should be repealed outright.
Robson said that, if nothing else, the mandate serves as a goal.
"Goals have to be flexible, as well," he said. "But if they didn't put the goal in place, would we have a $1 billion investment that's currently being made?"
That refers to plans by Arizona Public Service to buy power produced by a Spanish company, which announced earlier this year that it would build a solar thermal plant near Gila Bend that could generate enough power to serve 70,000 households.
Also running is former state Republican lawmaker Barry Wong, who served on the commission for six months to fill a vacancy. He said he supports renewable energy.
Four Democrats also are vying for the three seats. They are Sandra Kennedy, a former state lawmaker from Phoenix; Paul Newman of Bisbee, another former legislator who is a Cochise County supervisor; Sam George of Phoenix, who describes himself as active in Democratic causes; and Kara Kelty, a member of the Flagstaff City Council.