The Goldwater Institute is appealing the Maricopa County Superior Court decision on its lawsuit looking to have Arizona’s renewable energy standards thrown out.
The institute filed suit against the Arizona Corporation Commission last year, questioning the ACC’s authority in setting the standard requiring utilities such as Arizona Public Service Co. to meet certain levels of renewable energy in their portfolio and to levy a tariff through customer bills to help pay for it.
“These regulations may be the largest intrusion into private business in Arizona’s history, and consumers are picking up the tab,” said Clint Bolick, director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.
Superior Court Judge Joseph Heilman sided with the ACC in his ruling, issued in early September.
Institute officials contend the judge sidestepped the constitutional issue, but the ACC is confident the ruling will withstand appeal.
“It’s unfortunate that the Goldwater Institute is going to pursue the case,” said ACC Chairwoman Kris Mayes. “We think the Superior Court decision is the correct one.”
The ACC passed its renewable energy standards in 2006, setting a target for utilities to be getting 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Part of that was for distributed generation (rooftop solar systems) that would be paid for, in part, by rebates from the utilities to help offset the cost of the panels. Those rebates are funded by a fee that is collected by the utilities from all customers based on the amount of electricity they use, but capped at $3.74 per month per customer.
The institute took up the lawsuit on behalf of several APS customers. It contended the ACC did not have the constitutional authority to set energy policy, and that it should have been left up to the Arizona Legislature.
The threat of the original lawsuit created a challenge for the state as it pursued solar companies to come to the region. An overturned renewable energy standard would have meant a flagging market for solar panels in Arizona at a time when other states were adopting similar programs.
An appeal, however, likely won’t have the same detrimental effect as the state continues to look at diversifying its economic base, Mayes said.
“I think Judge Heilman’s decision was so clear and had such heft that there be a great deal of certainty that Arizona’s renewable energy standards will stand,” she said.