Tucson’s Prop 412
There’s a special election in Tucson set for May 16 that’s stirring up a bit of debate. Proposition 412 is a ballot measure to approve or deny a new franchise agreement with TEP (Tucson Electric Power), and according to the Tucson City Clerk’s Office, “If the agreement is approved by voters, the extra revenue generated would be used to cover the cost of undergrounding infrastructure and to fund efforts that support the City’s Climate Action Plan.”
Part of the controversy is the TEP rate hike. The Sierra Club is opposed to the proposed 11.8% rate increase and the $2.00 fee increase, which would raise residential ratepayers' bills by an average of $16.22 per month. They say it will prolong TEP's use of dirty and expensive fossil fuel infrastructure.
If approved, it would allow TEP to put part of a controversial new transmission line underground. The original plan was to a series of tall metal poles and wires running from 36th Street and South Kino Parkway to just north of Grant Road and Interstate 10. I know many people who have talked about the idea of doing this as opposed to large towers hovering over us. But that costs money to build and the maintenance costs are more as well.
Also, if approved, a percentage of the rate hike monies would go to a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan that was proposed in January of this year by Tucson’s Mayor and Council. This part of the election has the Republicans totally clutching their pearls and wringing their hands. It also gives them something to do because, you know, any climate change action takes away your freedoms. Like gun control…
So you can get an idea of the opposition to this vote, check out this website. On here they list how TEP will use the resiliency fee as if these are truly horrible things. Since Republicans these days keep on ranting about WOKE-ness and pretty much want to take us back to the dark ages, and a way of life before we became more aware that maybe running amok in the DDT spray in the early 60s wasn’t such a fucking good idea, these talking points are OUTRAGEOUS and will TAKE AWAY YOUR FREEDOMS!
• Decarbonize city-owned and operated buildings and facilities;
• Promote distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar to provide local renewable energy and enhance energy resilience;
• Pursue additional local sources of renewable energy, including resource recovery and heat exchange;
• Promote electric vehicles via charging infrastructure expansion;
• Transition public agency fleets to zero-emission and net-zero-emission vehicles;
• Establish accessible resilience hubs across all City Wards to provide information and resources related to climate preparedness and response;
• Bolster City-owned and community-wide heat mitigation resources to reduce urban heat island effect and protect vulnerable individuals and communities;
• Deploy and maintain equitable nature-based solutions that reduce or sequester emissions, improve ecosystem health, and bolster climate resilience; and
• Bolster community and regional networks to improve community-wide emergency response and resource-sharing.
Another controversy with this crowd is their aversion to the 15-Minute City idea that’s mentioned in the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. They say that despite actual science spelled out by worldwide experts, Tucson’s Climate Action Plan has a goal of being carbon neutral in part by forcing Tucsonans to live in a 15-minute city, which means: 50% fewer personal gas-powered vehicles by 2030, forced biking, walking, and public transport to the grocery store and more, hindering freedom of choice and movement. YOU’LL have to PRY my GIANT, GAS-GUZZLING TRUCK and my GUNS from my COLD, DEAD BODY!! That whole concept IS controversial…you might enjoy reading more about it in this article from the New York Times.
Anyway, I digress a bit. According to the PLAN, in 2020, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and the City Council declared a Climate Emergency, committing the City of Tucson to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Through the declaration, Mayor and Council directed the City to develop a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (The Plan) to create a strategic pathway to reduce the City’s emissions to net-zero by 2030. The Plan will outline the anticipated impacts of climate change across the City, identifying the areas and communities most vulnerable to those impacts. She endorses this proposition as you can see below.
It’s like taxes. Nobody wants to pay them. I like having a cold storage unit in my house where I keep food necessities. The AC and swamp cooler is pretty essential here, too. What about my TeeVee?!?! Internet. Phones. All of it.
A point that TEP makes, according to TEP’s supervisor of media relations Joe Barrios speaking to John Washington in the online AZ Luminaria, is that there are more customers, using more energy, and an aging grid and the importance of shifting away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, costs money. Over time as we move away from coal and shut down the facilities that we do have, we all have to make investments to replace that capacity.
For a fairly good summation of the whole enchilada, check out Blake Morlock’s article in the Tucson Sentinel. Gotta love a guy who starts out with a quote from the Pima County Republican Party: "There will be a special election May 16, 2023, where the voters will decide if they want to raise their Tucson Electric Power rates to remove some poles and somehow reduce climate change by throwing money at Tucson’s Climate Action Plan."
On the other hand, Councilman Steve Kozachik makes a salient argument in the Arizona Daily Star that TEP is not coming out of pocket with a single penny to support renewables in Prop 412. You are, in the form of a 0.75% resiliency fee. Damn…here’s the piece in case you run into a firewall:
Proposition 412 is a 25-year extension to Tucson Electric Power’s existing franchise agreement with the city of Tucson. TEP is not coming out of pocket with a single penny to support renewables in Prop 412. You are, in the form of a 0.75% resiliency fee. Let’s be clear. They’re collecting those new dollars from customers, not dipping into their own revenues in support of investing more heavily in climate mitigation and decarbonizing efforts.
The fee you’ll be paying is estimated to yield roughly $4 million to $5 million per year. If TEP committed to even half of what you’re being charged the utility would be investing more than $50 million over the 25-year life of the franchise agreement. That would signal a serious partnership with the climate action initiatives the mayor and city council have identified.
And yet our climate reality demands much more than the aesthetic of undergrounding new utility lines. A financial commitment from TEP to partner in that larger renewable energy conversation is what’s lacking in the extension of their franchise agreement.
Whether Prop 412 passes or fails, TEP will still have to go through what’s called a Special Exception process if they want to install new utility lines above ground on either our gateway or scenic corridors. Through the Special Exception process there are at a minimum three public hearings in which affected residents and businesses have a forum to make their voices heard. That requirement was adopted completely outside of the Prop 412 franchise agreement discussion. It stands if 412 passes, and it stands if 412 falls. Prop 412 is solely about TEP having their right to do work in public rights of way extended for another 25 years, with the new component of identifying a funding source for undergrounding utilities — and to a much less robust extent funding some of our climate initiatives.
TEP is legitimately concerned that their existing power supply system is old and is in need of upgrades. They have said if Prop 412 fails they will be forced to make $12 million in upgrades that they would otherwise not have to. But adopting 412 does nothing for the immediate need for upgrades. If TEP is concerned with their ability to provide uninterrupted service in the midtown area that issue isn’t solved by passing this proposition.
TEP says the Arizona Corporation Commission will not approve rate increases that are tied to undergrounding for aesthetic purposes. But the ACC will approve rate increases tied to increased investments into renewable energy sources. If TEP were to commit to half of what they’re asking of you to help with our resiliency goals, that roughly $2 million annually is a rounding error for the utility. But extended over the length of the agreement it would be an important piece of addressing the expansion of residential solar and the emergent need to get off from fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources. That level of commitment does not exist in the current ballot language.
The existing TEP franchise agreement expires in 2026. If the extension fails in May it can be placed back on the ballot in either August or November of this year. Either date would give the city and the community time to meet and identify ways the utility can demonstrate a larger commitment to addressing extreme heat and how we safely provide electricity using renewable energy sources. That conversation will not affect the need to honor our gateway ordinance mandating undergrounding new utilities. And that conversation was truncated by rushing to the May election date.
TEP says if Prop 412 fails they “might not have this conversation again.” But all they’re doing through this ballot measure is agreeing to collect $4 million — $5 million from you annually and for the first 10 years spend 90% of it to comply with our existing city ordinances. That’s simply a cost of doing business, not a commitment to renewables.
The franchise agreement is a 25-year contract with the utility. The current proposal earmarks less than $500,000 annually for the first 10 years from the new fee for decarbonization and other climate actions. We can do better.
Very hard to decide on this one. You should have received your ballets by now (still not sure why we’re paying for this one-vote election when it could’ve waited until November…TEP’s current agreement stands until 2026) but you still have some time to chew on this before you decide which way to vote. Pass this around, please, and feel free to jump in with your views!