With Arizona’s votes finally tallied this week, Republicans won all but one of the 15 utility commissioner contests in this month’s midterm elections, securing the GOP’s control over critical energy decisions in nine states.
These regulators decide what power and gas companies can charge ratepayers and which energy projects get built, and are expected to take on even larger roles in the year ahead as billions in federal funding from President Joe Biden’s recently-passed infrastructure laws starts to flow.
The sweep did little to change things in Alabama, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, conservative-leaning states where Republicans either ran incumbents or already controlled much, if not all, major state government posts.
But in Arizona, where two seats on the five-member Corporation Commission were in play, Republicans ousted Democrat Sandra Kennedy, the only incumbent in the race, and seized the open position in a four-way election that ended with slim margins ofabout two percentage points.
Since the commission’s Republican majority voted down a 100% clean-energy mandate in January, Democrats had hoped winning another seat would help put the sun-soaked Copper State back on track to shift away from costly natural gas and coal-fired power plants...
That doesn’t necessarily mean the elections will slow the deployment of more solar, wind, and carbon capture projects, some experts said.
Russia’s war in Europe has spiked natural gas prices, and the two major infrastructure laws Congress passed over the past year, particularly the meaty Inflation Reduction Act, “are having a big influence on energy choice,” said Leah Rubin Shen, policy director at Advanced Energy Economy, a national trade group representing dozens of renewable energy companies and tech firms with climate goals.
“Regardless of which political party controls a state or a commission, the conditions are very different going into 2023 than they were 10 or even five years ago,” she said. “This could be a chance to avoid unnecessary rate hikes and expensive new plants while still investing in domestic energy, in this case, clean energy, and that should be attractive to commissioners regardless of political affiliation.”
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