Wednesday, August 19, 2015

crAZy corruption: A utility tail wags the regulatory dog

The first part of the headline was mine. The second part and following snippets are from The Republic/azcentral.com editorial.

The moment of truth — consideration of a fee increase for rooftop-solar customers of Arizona Public Service — is upon Arizona’s all-Republican Corporation Commission.

The moment is an uncomfortable one. Two of the sitting commissioners are widely believed to have enjoyed as much as $3.2 million in "dark money" campaign support last year from APS, and more than a few critics suspect the utility tail is wagging the regulatory dog.

How will Commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little weigh the facts of the request when it begins Tuesday? Even agreeing to take up the case now could suggest they are doing APS’ bidding. It is what the utility wants. Will they do what their perceived benefactors asks?

It didn’t have to be this way.

Well, I think it was inevitable. But the next few hours will be interesting. The Commission is meeting on the APS request today.

Stump (BOBghazi STUMPgate, he of text message fame) is another commissioner who has been tainted by dark money, without doubt even more egregiously than Forese and Little.

They are not the only commissioners compromised by events from last year’s campaigns.

A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group has been struggling for months to obtain text messages from the cellphone of another commissioner, Bob Stump, who the group suspects may have acted as an intermediary between the independent campaign groups and the GOP candidates.

APS is forcing the issue of an increased levy on new residential solar installations. But it didn't have to do it. That they did, suggests a confidence, nay arrogance. They think they will win based on who they think they bought.

... the commission has the option to wait until it considers a full-blown rate case before weighing in on a new solar fee. Former commissioners Bill Mundell, a Republican, and Renz Jennings, a Democrat, are among those recommending exactly that.

"Regulatory rate-making principles for utilities recommend that all rates be decided at the same time. Certainly, there are exceptions, but the burden is on APS to show why it is so urgent to decide only the solar rate in a vacuum," said Mundell, who together with Jennings has asked to intervene in the case.

Intervention requests from former commissioners are unusual events. But thanks to the unusual, apparent intervention of APS in the election, the commission now finds itself in this near-impossible position.

But not completely impossible. The commission’s first postelection act involving APS should be to deny the utility’s request, and consider this solar-user fee as a part of the larger rate case.

Will the commission deny APS's request? I will be surprised if it does. The taint of dark money now infects the Commission as an institution. The silence of Commissioner Bitter Smith is damning. The attempt by Commissioner Burns to change the law to make public access to public records more difficult is the nail in the Commission coffin. Even if APS's request is justified, if the Commission approves it, that will be the mental cement that ties APS-related dark money to the Commission.

Will the Commission do the right thing? This is perilously close to inclusion in my series Of Course Not.

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