The future of a mandate to use more renewable energy — and force Arizona customers to pay more to buy it — could be in the hands of Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The governor will get to name a new member of the Arizona Corporation Commission as early as Monday when Marc Spitzer resigns to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Spitzer was one of three votes earlier this year on the five-member body for preliminary approval of a requirement that at least 15 percent of the electricity used in this state by 2025 come from renewable sources.
Commissioner Mike Gleason is definitely opposed, with chairman Jeff Hatch-Miller, who earlier voted for the concept, now expressing concerns about the cost to consumers.
That could make Napolitano’s appointment the swing vote when the final roll-call occurs, possibly in September.
Hanging in the balance is whether Arizona is going to move away from its dependence on fossil fuels to light, heat and cool homes and businesses in the rapidly growing state.
“I think it’s the most important vote this commission will ever cast,’’ said Kris Mayes.
The newest commissioner has been at the forefront of the push for the “environmental portfolio standard’’ for utilities.
That importance has not been lost on Napolitano who said Wednesday she supports the rules. “I think renewable energy being part of the portfolio is an important part of the energy future for Arizona,’’ she said. And the governor said she will ask pointed questions of would-be regulators.
“I want to ascertain what their knowledge is of what’s in the portfolio, the background of it,’’ she said. “I want to make sure that whoever I appoint is well-versed on the issues.’’
But Napolitano, acknowledging the potential the newest commissioner would be the swing vote, refused to say she will make support for the new rules a “litmus test’’ for appointment. Instead, Napolitano said she wants someone with “good judgment’’ who will “evaluate issues fairly and thoroughly.’’
Finding someone to take the job could prove difficult: The commissioner, who has to be a Republican like Spitzer, would serve only until Spitzer’s term ends at the end of the year. At that point whoever is elected in November will
fill his seat.
The state Republican Party has chosen state Rep. Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, to be on the ballot. Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L’Ecuyer said she did not know whether the Democratic governor would consider appointing Pierce, something that would give him the benefit of incumbency when running in November against a Democrat.
At this point the most likely source of alternative energy is solar and, to a lesser extent, wind. Other options include geothermal and biomass.
“We’re dedicated . . . to moving to cleaner fuel where the source of the fuel is more localized,’’ said Hatch-Miller. But he and Gleason question the price tag.
“How much impact is it going to have on a ratepayer’s bill?’’ he asked, saying his vote will depend on those figures.
And there will be a cost: The commission’s own rules allow utilities to charge residential customers an extra $1.05 a month; small businesses would pay an additional $39 a month, with the figure hitting $117 a month for larger firms.
Hatch-Miller said the state of current technology could mean even higher costs.
“We’re finding out that right now we’re paying 8 cents a kilowatt hour,’’ he said. “To get the solar electricity, which is going to be the primary source in Arizona, right now the current technology is going to cost us about 30 cents per kilowatt hour.
“Those arguments are just a red herring,’’ Mayes said.
She said the rules — which also include encouraging building owners to install solar panels — will result in future savings with for fewer power plants and transmission lines, as well as lower pollution.
“We are saying that it’s worth the cost,’’ Mayes said. “We’re saying that we want to invest in something that is going to bring energy independence to Arizona over time.’’
She also said the commission is moving slowly, allowing time between now and 2025 for utilities to make the necessary investment.
And Mayes said other technologies also may develop in that time which are more cost effective.
“We invested in the oil and gas industry, and we’ve been doing that for the last 100 years, because we thought it was a priority,’’ Mayes said. “But now we have to do something different.’’
Hatch-Miller said there are alternatives, one of which is nuclear power.