Thank you to my fellow Commissioners for your belief in me and for electing me to serve as your Chair. We faced intense challenges last year, and have also made incredible progress. We’ve set the stage for short-term and long-term priorities and objectives we can accomplish together, moving forward.
As we enter a new era, let’s take a moment to recap the last year. As we know, 2020 was marked with unprecedented challenges for Arizonans, including industry and society-wide economic struggles; high political tensions and extreme polarizations; and significant uncertainty for many families during a global pandemic.
However, 2020 will also be remembered as the year when great strides were made. I am proud of our accomplishments at the Commission such as: Setting Arizona on a course for 100% clean energy by 2050; passing first-of-their-kind policies in Arizona to help reshape and redefine the grid to give utilities and third parties the tools and regulatory frameworks to thrive, drive innovation, and advance cutting-edge energy technologies; and granting the most consumer relief that Arizona’s consumers have ever seen in a year, including $44.3 million in refunds back to APS and TEP customers; $11 million in shareholder donations to bill assistance programs; advocating for an additional $16 million in LIHEAP funds that will come to Arizona; providing payments to 13,000 APS customers for errors in the rollout of its rate comparison tool; $11 million in Energy Efficiency funds that will go toward limited-income home weatherization, energy-efficient HVAC systems, and other programs that will help customers save during the times of day that cost consumers the most; a summer moratorium that protected vulnerable consumers and prevented them from being disconnected during Arizona’s hottest summer months; a COVID-19 moratorium that prevented utility customers from being disconnected due to the economic hardships resulting from COVID-19; and most recently, a $250 bill forgiveness and automatic 8-month payment plan for low-income customers who have been struggling to keep up with their bills, representing millions of dollars contributed from shareholder funds.
Even though the trials and tribulations of 2020 may initially appear to be behind us, many of the issues we faced still loom. I look forward to continuing our progress together, and to building on what we have already accomplished to make Arizona a place where we can thrive and accelerate economic growth coming out of the pandemic. It is clear that the entire state and the industry is watching to see how this new era at the Commission will take shape.
In my first 100 days as your Chairwoman I will focus on the following immediate priorities: together making necessary and prudent updates to the direction and workload of Commission Divisions, Structure, and Staff; identifying and addressing the Commission’s unwritten policies & procedures and helping to establish increased transparency and consistency for the Commission; passing an order filing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with the Arizona Secretary of State to initiate the Commission’s permanent disconnection rules, while also working with fellow elected officials in the Legislature on the appropriate temperature that is in the public interest; helping to bring high-speed Internet and economic development to rural communities through a broadband transition of the Arizona Universal Service Fund High-Cost Fund; instituting a Streamlined Rate Review process for small water companies throughout the state and providing gradualism to ratepayers; implementing rate case policies to reduce our Staff’s workload and the costs third parties face when litigating both the least and most contentious issues; and working to earn my fellow commissioners’ support on both forest biomass & a just transition for tribes and coal impacted communities that includes a state-wide approach, including the governor and state legislature.
Beyond the first 100 days of my chairmanship, I have numerous other objectives and aims for the Corporation Commission. All of these will require cooperation and collaboration with my fellow Commissioners, Staff, and most importantly, Arizona residents. First, we must revisit and reinforce our pending Clean and Affordable Energy Rules to accomplish progressive outcomes through the use of conservative principles and regulatory mechanisms. Next, we must investigate and implement Performance Incentive Mechanisms for utilities of all kinds in Arizona. Such mechanisms shall address traditional performance areas such as energy efficiency, grid reliability, and safety. Third, let’s work diligently to improve the efficiency of Small Water Companies, which can be done through acquisitions and regional consolidation.
Fourth, we must continue to develop our programs for workforce and supplier diversity. Last, but not least, let’s take the crucial and necessary step to rehabilitate Arizona’s regulatory climate. This can be achieved by: restoring the public’s trust in the Commission, its staff, and its Commissioners; improving the Commission’s working relationship with the Legislature; striving to be a hard-working, informed, and educated body of Commissioners; and addressing the Commission’s unwritten internal policies and procedures to apply policies consistently and issue decisions and policies that are fair, balanced, and reasonable for all parties involved.
In closing, I am committed to bringing proposals before you within the first 100 days and work over the next year to adopt a final product that represents all of our goals and objectives. At the next Open Meeting I will include an Agenda Item that grants each Commissioner an opportunity to voice the policy changes and objectives they’d like to prioritize and achieve over the calendar year. To facilitate a robust discussion, I am asking each Commissioner to prepare a list of one or two items they would like to address before the end of 2021. As your new Chairwoman, I will provide each Commissioner a fair opportunity to present, develop, and vote on his or her ideas.
Our great state is at a crossroads. As we begin to recover from the depths of this pandemic, Arizonans want, and deserve, an Arizona Corporation Commission that is united, forward-looking, and prepared to confidently overcome challenges which will arise. Let’s work as one team whenever possible to create the most effective and impactful Arizona Corporation Commission possible. Thank you.