Arizona’s Solar Team: “Watchdogs. Not Lap Dogs.”

Arizona’s Corporation Commissioners are some of the most powerful executives in the state. To learn more about the candidates for the commission, Democratic Perspective hosted first-time candidate Marcia Busching and incumbent Paul Newman. Along with incumbent Sandra Kennedy, they are running as the Solar Team.

Most people know that the commission regulates utilities, but we began our interview by asking what the commission does. Busching responded by saying, “One of the obligations of the Corporation Commission is to help investors who have been defrauded when they’ve purchased securities. We help collect their money back. In 2011, the Corporation Commission collected nearly $28 million for investors.”

Asked why she and the other members of the Solar Team have chosen to run for the office, Busching replied, “First, we want oversight…to be a utility watchdog, not a lap dog…to make sure we have reasonable utility rates. Second, we want Arizona to become a leader in renewable energy and to achieve energy independence. And third, we really want to encourage a job creating business environment with more solar jobs. We have 27 solar manufacturers in this state, and we really want to have more.”

The Solar Team is running a very competitive campaign despite the fact that their Republican opponents were found in violation of election laws by the Clean Elections Commission for spending $250,000 to attack the Democratic candidates before the primaries. They were fined $29,000 as a result of their actions.

That issue aside, Busching said, “The biggest difference between the Solar Team and the opposition is that we really see a bright future for Arizona. We see the Corporation Commission as a job creator; seeing the ability to be a leader in solar; seeing the opportunity to have energy independence; and, at the same time, making sure that we keep people’s rates reasonable and responsible. The other side has been absolutely chipping away at the renewable energy standards that were set five years ago. They have reduced rebates. They want to make sure that every coal-fired plant that we have in this state can continue to operate.”

In comparing the various sources of energy, Busching reported, “According to the APS resource report, which came out in April of this year, the installed cost of kilowatt hour of nuclear is $6,000. Coal is $3,500. Solar and wind are $2,500. And natural gas is $1,000. If you compare apples to apples, solar and wind are much less expensive than coal or nuclear.”

Busching continued, “The delivered costs including capital, fuel, operation and maintenance, fuel efficiency, capacity and transmission costs, nuclear comes in at $160 per megawatt hour, coal at $150, and solar and gas are just about equal at $100 per megawatt hour.”

Paul Newman added, “The study suggests that Arizona should be investing in renewable energy, both solar and wind. This is not only an environmental issue. It’s an economic issue.”

Asked about the commission’s 30% cut in rebates for solar, Newman replied, “Republicans have been cutting back on rebates. They’ve been cutting back on efficiency. And they’ve been cutting back on our power. They’re in a regulator role, but they don’t believe in government. We need to get back to a bi-partisan commission and, hopefully, we can do that.”

With regard to the experience of running for office, Busching said, “No regrets, the campaign has been a wonderful experience.”

“I echo Marcia’s words,” said Newman. “This is a very, very critical election. It’s a tipping point, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a close election. We can’t predict what will happen. But I think that we’ve gotten our message out…to bring jobs to Arizona, to bring energy independence, and to be a consumer watchdog.”

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