Local meetings help take mystery out of Corporation Commission (Guest Column)

If you're not sure what the Arizona Corporation Commission is or does, don't feel bad. You're in good company. I've traveled all across this state, as a former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and as the director of the Departments of Weights and Measures, Insurance, and Financial Institutions.

Often times I'm asked, "What exactly does the Corporation Commission do?" That sends me a message: maybe we need to reach out more. As the newest commissioner, I want to involve Arizonans and bring the ACC directly to the people, especially those who live in rural Arizona.

When Gov. Doug Ducey appointed me, I immediately saw a clear need and a wonderful opportunity to take the ACC on the road to meet and hear from the people who live outside the "great state" of Maricopa. That's why I visited Yuma County last month and will be in Mohave County on April 11-12 as part of my year-long Rural Arizona Corporation Commission Tour. At 5 p.m. Monday, I invite you to stop by the Bullhead City Council Chambers, where I'll kick off an open house with a presentation on the ACC and take your questions. Mohave Electric Cooperative, UNS Energy, Southwest Gas, and EPCOR will also give presentations and take questions.

Join me at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Mohave County Administration building for the ACC open meeting. I'll be teleconferencing with the other four commissioners in Phoenix. Our open meetings include topics that impact many crucial aspects of Arizona's economy.

The ACC regulates electricity, natural gas, water and sewer, corporate filings, securities, pipelines, railroads, and much more. The five commissioners meet monthly in Phoenix to make decisions about these industries.

The most prominent ACC activity is setting utility rates, such as the currently pending rate application from UNS Electric. I heard from hundreds of you about this very case last week in Kingman and Lake Havasu City. The commissioners regularly vote on how much you pay every time you flip on a light or run your heater on those cool desert nights. In fact, the ACC may also affect how much you pay for that light bulb, heater, or air conditioner through appliance rebates ordered by the ACC and issued by UNS Electric or the Mohave Electric Cooperative.

Other open meeting items address water or wastewater services provided by private companies, such as Valley Pioneers Water Company in Golden Valley or EPCOR Water Arizona along the Colorado River. The ACC sets those rates, too.

When I visited Yuma County last month, several residents from a small, nearby community came up to me at the open house and the open meeting and asked for help. Their water was undrinkable and trickled out of the faucets because of low water pressure. Residents couldn't flush their toilets and the system would not have been able to help with fire suppression.

I returned to Phoenix and immediately requested a special meeting of the commissioners to allow the company more flexibility in its finances to fast track upgrades. In a few days, I read reports from residents that they could actually use their water again. For those of you who are served by companies facing similar troubles, you know exactly what I'm talking about. In some dire cases, the ACC has already stepped in and installed interim water company operators.

But that isn't a long-term solution. A perennial challenge the ACC has grappled with, in western Arizona especially, is the numerous small water companies that have struggled for years to keep the water flowing or safe to drink. These fledgling companies need additional assistance to repair critical infrastructure needs that would allow them to return to compliance with environmental and other regulatory standards for safe drinking water, or to become a more sound investment for larger and more stable water companies or municipalities to purchase. That's why I am an ardent supporter of HB 2331, which would provide the ACC with $500,000 for grants to small water companies, most of which are in rural Arizona. Even though the money is a fraction of what these companies need, it is a crucial first step in a larger Arizona water strategy.

My top priority at the ACC is to ensure that every Arizonan, especially those who live in the far reaches of our state, have access to a reliable electrical grid, safe drinking water, and adequate sewage and wastewater facilities. We need you, the people, to weigh in and let your voice be heard at your commission. I sincerely hope you can make it out. I'd love to meet you.

If you have any questions about next week, please give me a call or send me an email. My office number is 602-542-3625 and my email address is Tobin-web@azcc.gov.