PHOENIX – Clean energy has been a trending yet controversial topic politically when it comes to mandates—and the latest clean energy conversation effort is on Arizona’s ballots.
Arizona’s Proposition 127 would implement a constitutional mandate that would require 50 percent of utilities to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Dr. Paul Bracken, a Yale University political science and management professor, called Arizona a test bed and said the state is a trendsetter when it comes to the United States’ policies and disputes.
“Some states have gone down this road in the sense of mandating certain policy, energy policy mix changes, which is what Prop 127 proposes to do,” Bracken said.
If passed, it would make Arizona one of 28 other states with renewable energy portfolios and just one of six other states with increases of 50 percent or above, according to the US Department of Energy’s latest figures.
California is one of the states that imposed a mandate to increase clean energy by 50 percent by 2030.
“They have the mirror image—50 percent renewable mandate in place and their electricity rates are increasing at three times the national average,” said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Energy. “So, I think for Arizona, businesses, and other leaders, that's an example of what we don't want to replicate here.”
Benson said experts tell the group the proposal is going to raise the price for electricity in the state and it’s going to “kill thousands of jobs.” Arizonans for Affordable Energy said the proposition could cost Arizona families an extra $1,000 per year in utility bills.
The driving force behind much of the debate has been exactly that—whether or not this mandate would increase people’s monthly electric bills.
In states that already have renewable portfolio standard policies, electricity prices are 38 percent higher, according to the Institute for Energy Research. Yet, another study by the U.S. Department of Energy national lab says states with those renewable energy policies show, along with a reduction in air pollution, drove over $20 billion in GDP and yielded savings to "electricity consumers."
DJ Quinlan, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona said renewable resources are now cheaper than fossil fuels.
“We have produced the only credible research that shows we will actually save money, which makes total sense when you consider that solar power is cheaper than gas and coal – it's just a fact,” Quinlan said. “And that will create tens of thousands of jobs and have better health outcomes.”
Quinlan said Arizona is the sunniest state in the country and is only using 6 percent of its energy from solar power.
“Arizona should be a leader in solar power…If Arizona can't succeed in producing more solar power and doing better than that 6 percent that we currently get, then nobody can,” Quinlan said. “And the longer we wait, the more we're going to fall behind.”
But critics say the proposal will hurt low-income people in the state.
Benson said this is an initiative funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer that will impact senior citizens on fixed income, small businesses and those residents with lower incomes. He called it “just a cookie cutter plan from California.”
“We all support clean energy but handcuffing elected officials in this state and putting this into the Arizona Constitution is the wrong way to go about it,” Benson said. “It's going to cause our rates to skyrocket.”
While arguments for and against the proposition will continue, Bracken said having a measure like this on the ballot is all a part of the democratic process.
“People who would like more sustainable energies are using the threat of a ballot initiative to put pressure on the state institutions of government and on the power companies themselves to change,” Bracken said. “I think one of the arguments in Arizona, is that for a state with its position in sustainable resources like solar it’s gone very, very slow in terms of particular solar but also wind—it hasn’t done as much as it should—so it could really influence Arizona public service and others to move in this direction.”
It’s now in Arizona voters’ hands whether the clean energy mandate increases. Early voting ballots were mailed out this week.