Legislative Pulse: Fighting for Reliable Energy in Arizona

Published September 20, 2018

Editor’s Note: Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem (R–Tucson) is serving his second term in the Arizona legislature. Finchem is vice chair of the House Federalism, Property Rights, and Public Policy Committee and the Military, Veterans, and Regulatory Affairs Committee. He is also a member of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. 

Burnett: The owners of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) electricity plant on Navajo Nation land in Arizona are planning to close it down prematurely. Do think that this would be good for the people of Arizona?

Finchem: It is a bad idea because there is, as yet, no replacement for the baseload power [the minimum level of electrical supply for an electrical grid to function reliably and provide on-demand power over a span of time], provided by NGS, which cannot be efficiently replaced with cyclical power from wind, solar, and gas. When baseload power is taken off the western grid, the entire system becomes more unstable, which means brownouts and blackouts, similar to those events California is experiencing right now.

Congress, through the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968 (Public Law 90-537), authorized the federal government’s participation in NGS in conjunction with creation of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) to move water from the northern part of Arizona to the central and southern regions of the state. The commissioning law set a decommissioning date, December 31, 2044, 26 years from now, and the legal analysis is the only way to shutter this plant before the congressionally mandated decommissioning date is to pass an amendment to the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968 permitting early decommissioning of the station.

The point of commissioning NGS to supply dependable baseload power to CAP is to minimize the risk to the power supply related to feedstock distribution systems. Gas lines can deteriorate, leak, and even from time to time suffer catastrophic interruptions such as the San Bruno pipeline explosion in California in 2010. Wind does not offer a 100 percent on-line guarantee, nor does solar. The most critical resource Arizona’s population and agricultural sector rely on is water, and without baseload power, that resource is at risk because pumps won’t run without it, and the pumps can’t run intermittently; they are always on to create the immense pressure needed to move nearly two trillion gallons of water downstate annually.

Another benefit of NGS is the positive impact it has on reducing energy poverty. Energy poverty is internationally defined, in the simplest of terms, as a condition where a household spends 10 percent or more of its gross household income on energy to heat, cool, and cook. Energy poverty is widespread in Arizona, and the decommissioning of a dependable, low-cost, low-emissions-footprint generating station like NGS would impose greater harm than good on poor- and middle-class households. 

Burnett: Even if the Navajo generating station is saved for now, its days may be numbered if California billionaire Tom Steyer’s ballot initiative to force Arizona utilities to provide 50 percent of the electricity they deliver from renewable sources by 2030 is successful. What are your thoughts on the practicality and legality of the initiative?

Finchem: While the initiative may survive a legal challenge to get on the ballot [It did—Ed.], I do not think it is likely to survive a vote of the people or even the inevitable legal challenge under the Supremacy Clause and Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as the state constitutional amendment would conflict with a congressional enactment, namely Public Law 90-537.

There are many defects in the initiative, but the most glaring issue is an out-of-state billionaire comes to Arizona, after making his billions on coal and energy trading, and uses the law to cement a special-interest protection into the Arizona Constitution. The move does nothing more than create a special protection for the so-called “green energy mafia” to control energy pricing. This has nothing to do with efficiency, the environment, or even grid stability. All we need do is take the time to follow the money, and we will see who really benefits from the monopoly protection amendment.

What many Arizona residents don’t know is NGS was a compromise with the Sierra Club to end plans for more hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River. Now that the Sierra Club is a lobbyist for the natural gas industry and a fundraising machine for the “green energy mafia,” the organization does not seem to care about their previous commitments and support for NGS.

Another fact Arizona residents do not know is what baseload power is or what it does. So, we have a defective initiative that will be voted on by constituents who do not know what baseload power is and do not know the impact of eliminating baseload power from the grid on their electric or water bills. This could be a catastrophe in the making.

Mr. Steyer has wreaked havoc on the California grid component by overbuilding solar power, with California having to pay other states to take solar-generated electric power off their hands at peak generation times. Now Steyer expects to do the same thing in Arizona.

Does it make any sense to add more supply of solar to a system already in a state of oversupply? It does if there is a profit motive behind the scheme: #dontbefooled.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

Official Connections:

State Rep. Mark Finchem (R–Tucson): http://votefinchem.com/; http://votefinchem.com/contact-mark.html