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Appeals Court upholds rule on renewable energy

Arizona’s rules requiring certain utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from alternative sources, such as solar and wind, by 2025 survived a fourth legal challenge from the Goldwater Institute watchdog group Thursday.

The institute challenged whether the Arizona Corporation Commission had the authority to impose the stringent rules on utilities, and it questioned the wisdom and expense of using so much alternative energy.

“This is a disastrous opinion for utility customers across the state,” institute lawyer Clint Bolick said Thursday of the decision from the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The court upheld alternative-energy rules passed in 2006 by the Corporation Commission.

The three judges – Margaret Downie, Maurice Portley and Patricia Orozco – wrote that the elected commissioners do have the authority to make such rules because they relate to power rates.

“In formulating the (renewable energy) rules, the commission considered the price fluctuations, transportation disruptions, and shortages associated with conventional fuel sources, noting that renewable resources are not subject to these same vagaries,” they wrote.

“Its findings connect the identified risks to the financial stability of utilities and, therefore, to consumer electric rates.”

Goldwater already failed in its challenges to the rules in the Arizona Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Maricopa County Superior Court.

Bolick said the institute is likely to seek review of the case again at the Arizona Supreme Court.

“Whenever we lose a case, we have an internal discussion to appeal or not, and we almost always do,” he said.

The institute challenged the tariff that Arizona Public Service Co. charges to customers to pay for the alternative energy. That tariff is more than $4 a month and rising as the renewable-energy requirements increase.

Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce said that he thought there was “no question” the regulators would prevail and that the commissioners’ main goal is protecting utility ratepayers.

“Each time we are doing an implementation plan (for a utility to use renewable energy), I’m thinking about the ratepayers,” Pierce said.

“We want to achieve a certain amount of renewable energy by 2025, but ratepayers are bearing the cost and it has to be affordable.

“People have to be able to afford this and really feel like they are getting a value.”