People buzzing over electric deregulation

July 23, 2013
Eastern Arizona Courier
David Bell

The hot topic in the Gila Valley is how to keep the costs low in order to stay cool.

Over the last two weeks, the issue of electric deregulation has come up during meetings of service clubs, political organizations, business organizations, regional focus groups and town meetings. And the consensus is to oppose the free market approach to power sales.

"I don't think there's much support for this (at the legislative level), but you never know," said Duncan Valley Electric Co-op Chief Executive Officer Michael Pearce. "Our concern is the impact this could have on our residential members."

Deregulation would allow providers from outside the state to come in and compete with the current single-source provider. But many locals believe the outside company would look to scoop up only the larger users — such as Walmart in Safford or Home Depot in Thatcher.

"The large users are in favor of this because they believe they can get a better rate," said Thatcher Town Manager Terry Hinton. "But the small folks won't see the benefit because the power generators have been allowed to pass through the costs, and the lost revenue from the big users means that money has to come from somewhere else."

The concerns about those costs were expressed to State Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, during her visit to Graham and Greenlee counties July 15-16, including an informal meeting at the Graham County Chamber of Commerce. Marie Freestone, executive director of the Chamber, said the Chamber board has moved to oppose deregulation.

"Now the individual members are being asked to express their position," Freestone said. "It's one thing when the board takes a position, but it can mean so much more when individual business owners take the time to write letters and express their opinion."

The issue was also a topic at the Graham County Republican Committee meeting July 12, where Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce called deregulation "shifting oversight."

"It's really...shifting oversight over the guys that want to compete with your utility," Pierce told the GOP faithful. "They want the high-load users, and if that’s allowed, we expect to see rates go up across the state. So we're saying, 'Show us how this will benefit residential customers.'"

At present, state officials are looking for the industry to sort itself out. However, legislative action is a possibility as is a voter referendum.

"They're going to cherry-pick. I don't blame them; anyone would in their shoes. But it costs us the same dollars to operate the system. So who is picking up the lost revenue? The residential users," Pearce said.

<- Go Back