Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns said on August 2 that he intends to determine whether current procedures for establishing what utilities can charge their captive customers have been subject to “undue influence” that can leave the ratepayers at a disadvantage.
He is hiring an attorney to conduct a study, financed with commission funds, for exactly that reason, according to a report in the Peoria local newspaper, Your West Valley. The lawyer who has taken the case, Scott Hempling, will be allowed to charge $315 an hour with a cap of $95,000. Those funds will be sourced from a regular assessment on all commission-related utilities.
While the scope of what the attorney is being asked to review is wide-ranging, it specifically includes the question of whether money spent by utilities to elect members of the Grand Canyon State’s utility regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission, affects the outcome of rate cases.
Burns said he is authorized as an individual commissioner to hire outside counsel even without the consent of the other four regulators – Andy Tobin, Tom Forese, Doug Little, and Bob Stump. His colleagues have opposed the idea of forcing utilities to disclose what they are spending on commission races.
Indeed, Burns denied that the contract, announced less than a month before the August 30 primary in which he is fighting to retain his seat, is in any way political, the news outlet reported.
Anyway, he said, the inquiry would not have been necessary had Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, stayed out of the 2014 race. The company will neither confirm nor deny that it provided any of the more than $3 million spent that year by outside groups to help elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little.
But Little, who chairs the panel, said he found the timing curious. “Early ballots (for the primary) go out on Wednesday,” he told Capitol Media Services. “If I were a candidate and didn’t have a whole lot of money and I couldn’t do a mailer, how else would I get attention?”