Sandra D. Kennedy is running for re-election to the Arizona Corporation Commission on a platform of renewable energy and cheaper utility rates.
Kennedy was elected to the commission in 2008 and served until 2014 when she lost a re-election campaign. She returned in 2018. s a commissioner, she said, she has been a vocal and consistent voice for renewable energy.
Among its duties, the commission regulates electricity, water, and gas providers, and approves the rates that consumers pay. More than 300 small and large water companies are under the commission’s jurisdiction.
“I do believe that the Corporation Commission is a fourth branch of government,” Kennedy said in a debate last month that was aired on Arizona PBS. “I think it is probably the most powerful entity in the state next to the governor’s office.”
That’s one of the reasons she initially decided to run for the commission instead of remaining in the Legislature, where she had served for 12 years.
Kennedy pointed to her long public service, which has included stints in both houses of the Legislature and four years on the Phoenix Union High School Governing Board.
The Corporation Commission, which was established by the Arizona Constitution, is made up of two Democrats and three Republicans. Voters will be allowed to pick two candidates from the four running. The Democrats are Kennedy and sustainability scientist Lauren Kuby, and the Republicans are Nick Myers and Kevin Thompson.
Kennedy and Kuby are closely aligned on their views. Both promote expansion of solar energy options and other renewable energy sources. Myers and Thompson are running together on a laissez-faire platform that would remove many of the rules, mandates, and regulations utility companies must deal with.
If re-elected, Kennedy said her biggest priority will be renewable energy, especially solar. One of her projects has been working with Native American communities as they try to transition from coal to renewable energy.
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She has opposed rate increases that she believed would make utilities too expensive for many Arizonans and has criticized the commission for being too friendly with utility providers.
Kennedy was part of a vote last year that resulted in a slight rate decrease for most APS customers. APS has sued to reverse the decision.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Megan Swing: Why are you interested in this job?
Sandra Kennedy: I think there’s clearly a difference between myself and the Republican candidates. They want more fossil fuel; they want more gas; they want more nuclear. And clearly, I have stated and continue to state that, again, we have an abundance of sunshine (and) the voters of this state have clearly stated they want more renewable energy. It is the cheapest form of power that we can generate in this state.
There are benefits not just for the ratepayers but there are benefits for the utility as well. I really feel our work is not finished yet.
MS: What are the major issues facing Arizona?
SK: Water conservation and utility costs are two challenges. Our water supply is not guaranteed. I’d like to see a robust conservation measure coming from every company that comes before the commission. If it includes incentives, that’s great.
I worry Arizonans won’t be able to afford utilities in the next five to 10 years.
MS: What will be your top priorities if elected?
SK: Water conservation is first.
When I’m elected, I’d like to make sure that we are working with every water company, and that conservation measures will be a top priority on the list.
The second on the list will be looking at our renewable energy standard, which requires regulated electric utilities to generate at least 15% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025 through the use of solar, wind, geothermal and other sources.
The commission has not been aggressive enough in forcing utilities to work with ratepayers to conserve energy. We also need to assess future electric needs and develop a plan on how to meet them.
MS: How will you work to improve bipartisanship in politics?
SK: I have been able to work across the aisle with her fellow commissioners, even when they do not agree.
You don’t always get everything that you want, but you may get a little bit of what you want. And that middle bit may be a start, but it could be a big start.
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MS: Do you have any concerns regarding the security of our elections?
SK: No. All the theories that have been thrown out there, it’s just not good for the people, and it’s not good for our state, and it’s not good for the United States.
MS: What is a personal challenge you need to overcome?
SK: You know I’ve been in politics a long time, but sometimes I get nervous when I speak before big crowds.
I want to make sure I’m speaking my truth and representing the people of Arizona. If I fail, I hope people will tell me so.
MS: Please share a quote or advice that you live by.
SK: My mother always said to me that you have to be careful as you are climbing the ladder. Remember the people you see going up the ladder. If you misstep and you begin to fall, remember the same people you saw going up the ladder, you will see going down the ladder.
MS: Do you support maintaining the current renewable energy mandates? Why or why not?
SK: We are the state of Arizona with an abundance of sunshine; we should be doing more.