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Arizona regulators want utilities to prove they can meet energy needs

(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Now that Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project have asked customers to conserve energy, two members of the Arizona Corporation Commission want utility companies to prove they have enough power to keep air conditioners running.

Blackouts forced by companies in California over the weekend left three million people in the dark — and in the heat. A similar situation could prove deadly in Arizona.

“There are some vulnerable populations,” Commissioner Lea Márquez Petersen told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Turning off electricity at any time during this intense summer heat could be pretty detrimental.”

Petersen and fellow Commissioner Justin Olson are also calling for an emergency public meeting with utility companies to prove “that they have the resources necessary to meet Arizonans’ needs for energy during these hot summer months,” Olson said.

They also want utilities to prove they won’t need to buy expensive extra energy on the wholesale market and raise customer rates. Petersen says COVID-19 has cut deep into too many wallets.

“Especially as these people have been furloughed and laid off and small businesses are suffering, we need to make sure we still have safe, reliable and affordable energy,” she said.

The commissioners support solar energy, but Olson says that cannot be generated at night.

“There are still those critical hours in the evening period when there’s still a large demand for energy and there’s not as much supply — that gap needs to be closed,” Olson said.

“California has refused to build the capacity that’s necessary to meet that demand.”

Even if renewable energy worked more effectively, Petersen says it wouldn’t be enough for Arizona or California.

“California lacked the supply and needed to go out to the open market, and they sucked up a lot of that additional energy,” she added.

Despite the heat, Olson doesn’t foresee Arizona suffering rolling blackouts like California.

“We have enacted policies that are common sense policies as we move forward and develop a reliable energy grid,” he said.

Earlier this summer, utility companies showed their summer preparedness plans to the Arizona Corporation Commission, proving they could provide enough energy during the record-breaking heat. They’ll have to update the plans by Friday.

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