Losers of renewable energy mandate claim “victory”

Two leading spokesmen for a group that was heavily defeated in its bid to get a renewable energy initiative passed in Arizona are now declaring a “victory” — of sorts.

On election day, Eric Hyers, campaign manager for the ballot measure described Arizona Public Service (APS) as a “bully” and bragged that proponents of the measure, Proposition 127, had successfully smeared the utility’s reputation.

“The biggest thing we wanted in the cycle we already got, which is doing significant damage to APS’ stranglehold on our politics,” Hyers, who is listed as a resident of Rhode Island on his Linkedin profile, told the Arizona Republic. “We’ve changed the dynamic against them. Being seen as cozy with them is seen as a liability.”

Another spokesman, D.J. Quinlan, also was quoted by several media outlets saying their significant defeat on Tuesday “altered the course of our politics for the better.”

Smearing APS was a costly proposition. Proponents spent $23.3 million in a failed campaign to convince voters to pass the initiative that would have required a change to the state constitution to force utilities to provide half of their energy from renewable sources. Current state rules require 15 percent by 2025.  

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the coalition opposed to Proposition 127, responded sharply to the criticism from the managers of the Yes on 127 campaign.

“They are twisting themselves in knots trying to find a victory amid the complete wreckage of their campaign efforts in Arizona this fall,” Benson said. “The fact is, they failed to pass Prop. 127, failed to take down either Governor Ducey or Attorney General Brnovich, and failed in their effort to unseat 3 GOP legislators.”

“I don’t think Arizona has ever seen a political figure spend more money to less effect than we did with (California billionaire) Tom Steyer in 2018,” Benson continued. “In that way, maybe he really did make history.”

Prop. 127 was dealt a crushing blow on election day, losing 649,389 to 293,855, or 69 to 31 percent. Almost every utility in the state warned electric rates would rise to pay for the proposition. Palo Verde would have to shut down, APS officials said.

Proponents of the measure repeatedly attacked those statements, claiming they were falsehoods concocted by APS. Palo Verde officials and other experts countered that a nuclear power plant must run continuously. It cannot be shut on and off at random when solar and wind are not sufficient.

As the election neared, proponents for the proposition also attempted to smear state Attorney General Mark Brnovich for modifying the state ballot question to say that the measure would be set into the state constitution “irrespective of the cost to consumers.”

The group promoting the initiative, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, spent more than $3 million in ads attacking the attorney general. Brnovich filed a defamation lawsuit in response before winning his second term in office.  

More than 300 groups and individuals representing a wide range of interests joined to oppose the measure saying it would hurt consumers, cost jobs and eliminate tax revenues for schools and government agencies. Palo Verde is the single largest commercial taxpayer in the state.

California billionaire Tom Steyer was the key backer of the failed initiative through his political action committee (PAC) NexGen. California has been ramping up renewables and forcing early closure of nuclear power plants. It has the fifth highest electric rates in the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

After the election Tuesday, APS president and CEO Don Brandt issued a statement saying it is intent on increasing clean energy for Arizona in a responsible manner.

“The campaign is over, but we want to continue the conversation with Arizonans about clean energy and identify specific opportunities for APS to build energy infrastructure that will position Arizona for the future,” he stated.

Victoria Harker

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