Sunrun asks Arizona regulators to recuse themselves over conflict of interest, bias

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While proceedings of state utility regulators are not typically seen as exciting, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) may prove an exception. The body that approved one of the first charges on PV system owners under net metering in 2013 is now embroiled in scandal over the use of “dark money” in the election campaigns of regulators.

In particular, two commissioners elected in 2014 received at least US$3.2 million in support from independent political groups, which solar advocates and solar installers allege were funded by utility Arizona Public Service (APS). These same two commissioners, Tom Forsee and Doug Little, led a 3-2 decision in August that will allow APS to pursue additional fees on PV system owners outside of its rate case.

Last Thursday third-party solar company Sunrun and allies asked that these two commissioners recuse themselves from this process of evaluating additional fees on solar customers, describing a conflict of interest based on the campaign contributions.

They separately asked that Commission Chair Bob Stump recuse himself, citing public statements which they say show a bias against rooftop solar. Earlier this summer the Arizona Attorney General’s office included Stump in an investigation into potentially inappropriate influence of APS on the regulatory body, including seizing his phone.

In this move, Sunrun is represented by attorney Hugh Hallman, the former mayor of Tempe, Arizona. Hallman filed the complaint on behalf of the company and two former commissioners. Additionally, both Sunrun and the Alliance for Solar Choice have filed for a rehearing of the decision to investigate solar fees outside the context of a rate case.

“We want to make sure that this is a fact-based conversation based on real data, which can happen in a rate case,” Vote Solar Interior West Regional Director Jessica Scott told pv magazine when the decision came down in August. “If solar gets discriminated against outside of a rate case, it’s harder to have context.”

Solar advocates are not the only ones who are concerned about the use of vast sums of “dark money” to influence ACC decisions, or at least the effect this has on ACC’s image.

The two remaining commissioners – both of whom dissented from the decision to allow a separate investigation into additional solar fees – have attempted to force disclosure from APS about their role in funding the campaigns. Commissioner Bob Burns has asked for legal opinions as to whether or not APS can be forced to testify about its contributions.