Burns: We have hit ‘stop’ button on 21st century modernization - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

Burns: We have hit ‘stop’ button on 21st century modernization

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Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2013 6:07 am | Updated: 3:28 pm, Thu Oct 24, 2013.

At the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), like any other elected body, we sometimes have differing opinions. The recent decision by three of my colleagues to prematurely shutdown the process of examining electric retail competition was one such time. The claim by the prevailing side was that the ACC was right to stop the discussions because of constitutional questions.

Bob Robb asked why we were talking about it in the first place. We were having the discussion because our chairman asked us to and he stated this was an “issue of great importance, worthy of our consideration.”

First, it would have been more appropriate if a clearly noticed discussion was held in which all interested parties were given the opportunity to express their opinions before the commission undertook a dispositive vote.

Our legal counsel first wrote to the commissioners about constitutional issues on Aug. 5. None of the commissioners issued any public misgivings based on that memo. On Sept. 11, Bob Burns placed an item on a meeting agenda to advance “the process and next steps.” Only then, without warning, the other commissioners used his item to terminate the process and voted to do so citing our legal counsel’s opinion.

Second, I have always said that if I were going to support Electric Retail Competition I would need to be convinced that residential and small business ratepayers would benefit and that reliability would not be sacrificed. The utilities said reliability would suffer and that “cost shifting” would occur. Those were distinct matters that needed to be vetted.

I had scheduled a series of three roundtable meetings to address the main friction points regarding retail competition. At the first one, Sept. 6, attorneys from opposing sides engaged in a vigorous debate on constitutionality, marking distinct contrasts. The other two meetings, which were to have been held on Sept. 19 and Oct. 10, would have addressed rates, reliability, generation capacity, the future of our coal plants, and several other issues.

Third, we are living in an era that is ushering in major changes in how electricity is delivered. The possibilities for modernization are endless and there are many innovations taking place which could eventually put consumers in a position to completely go off the grid. Those technologies include the Bloom Box, Micro-grids and storing unused solar energy.

The commission should prepare for these exciting opportunities of freedom and choice. Among other things, I had hoped that the debate surrounding electric retail competition would also include discussion of the intriguing ways we could be the vanguard by incorporating new paradigms of electric generation. Unfortunately, we have hit the “stop” button on 21st century modernization and are stuck with, for now, a 19th century model of electric service.

As technological innovations nudge consumers away from the monopoly model, the incumbent utilities will seek recovery for their investments and fixed costs. Had this debate continued, we would have been able to explore those considerations. 

Bob Robb said that “Arizona needs to have a debate about Electric Deregulation.” The ACC was the best forum to have this debate. 

• Arizona Corporation Commission member, Brenda Burns, served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995. In 1993. She served eight years in the Arizona State Senate, from 1995 to 2003. In 1997, and became the first Arizona woman to be elected Arizona Senate President. In 2010, Burns was elected to a four-year term on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

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