CEO’s Message – May 2023

HB2496: A Common Sense Solution

Dave Lock

The political climate at the Arizona statehouse hasn’t exactly been cordial this session. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Katie Hobbs haven’t seen eye-to-eye on many issues. So it was refreshing to see, in a show of bipartisanship, the 2 sides come together to pass a measure that will help Arizona’s co-ops develop more renewable energy for their members.

HB2496, sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), will speed up the approval process for new energy projects. These include solar, wind and battery storage, and other projects necessary to provide the needed reliability for Arizona’s intricate electric system. It’s projected that Arizona will need thousands of megawatts of new energy resources installed over the next 20 years. Arizona also needs to build short generation tie-in lines that connect power generation to our electric grid, where eventually it finds its way into our homes and businesses. That’s where HB2496 comes in.

Arizona statute created a line siting committee that reviews applications for energy projects. Unfortunately, project approval has taken far too long because of the cumbersome and lengthy process the committee must follow. When the process was created, the Legislature could not contemplate the sheer number of renewable projects that would come on line in the decades ahead. In short, the statutes governing the line siting process are antiquated and past due for a refresh. Renewable energy projects are exempt from the current line siting process, but that exemption does not apply to the short generation tie-in lines. Without these tie-in lines, energy from renewable projects cannot be delivered. Most often these tie-ins span a distance of less than a mile. Because these short lines have been required to receive a line siting hearing, projects aimed at increasing renewal development are delayed. A process that should only take about 12 months can sometimes take up to 2 years.

Many projects have been withholding filing their applications because of the lengthy timeframes. In the case of the rural cooperatives, we have 2 projects that need to be sited by 2026, and there are many projects at other utilities and renewable developers in the state that are in the same position. The backlog at the line siting committee could have been reduced by as much as 50% had the changes outlined in HB2496 been implemented earlier.

HB2496 received bipartisan support in the House but passed on a party-line vote in the Senate. The attorney general’s office and environmental groups opposed the bill and were active in their opposition. However, Gov. Hobbs and her team deserve a ton of credit for keeping an open mind and seeing through the politics of this issue, and for recognizing it as a good governance, common-sense bill. We made the case that our goal was not to work against the attorney general or the line siting committee, but with them to make this process more efficient and modernized.

Arizona’s rural electric co-ops appreciate Rep. Griffin’s and Gov. Hobbs’ leadership in addressing this issue. It’s nice to see that we still can come together in support of a common-sense solution that will facilitate the development of renewable energy in our state.