My View: Utilities spending on much more than providing power

Court Rich

By Court Rich | Rose Law Group

Have you ever stopped to wonder if it is right that the most ubiquitous logos in Arizona are the three-letter monikers belonging to our big three monopoly electric utilities? The letters APS, TEP, and SRP are omnipresent, and if you look closely you find them everywhere. Whether they adorn billboards, luxury tents at the Phoenix Open, invitations to charity galas, or are affixed to some giveaway nick-knack at a sporting event, the presence of these logos is as reliable as the Arizona summer heat. These pervasive initials pop up in contribution reports of elected officials and local charities and are just as likely to be found on trash cans at public events as they are to decorate the podium as a politician addresses a high-powered room.

People on the receiving end of this monopoly triumvirate’s largess proclaim them generous pillars of the communities in which they operate. The undeniable truth, however, is that every penny spent on self-aggrandizing advertisements, haughty corporate functions, their leaders’ political whims, or even just on monogrammed golf tees has one thing in common: it comes from us, the captured ratepayers of three mega-monopoly utilities. Just as we must pay taxes to fund municipal services, we must pay the tax-like rate the monopoly charges

While comparing these three monopolies to municipal governments, it bears mentioning that of the three, SRP actually is the government with governing laws and an elected board. Nevertheless, we are inundated with commercials where SRP reassures its trapped customers that it is “delivering more than power” – delivering a healthy dose of governmental narcissism is more like it. Nothing beats Orwellian ads run by the government telling the people how much they should love the government. Can you imagine the Phoenix City Council inundating residents with taxpayer-funded ads telling citizens how great the city is at collecting trash – “collecting more than rubbish” perhaps?

Most egregious of all is the propensity these monopolies have to try to influence political outcomes in Arizona. They are granted a state-issued monopoly permitting the extraction of tax-like payments from every single one of us, yet we have a single utility plowing roughly $20 million recently into campaigns to pick its own regulators, fight against renewable energy, and support any number of issues, all while being the single largest donor to what is likely a majority of Arizona’s sitting legislators.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Janus, recently struck down a law that permitted unions to extract fees from nonmembers for political purposes and deemed that this “compelled speech” offends the Constitution. Nevertheless, our Arizona monopoly utilities have no problem taking the money they extract from us all and funneling it into political causes they support — and which you may not.

Instead of continuing to pretend as if these monopolies are not taking our money and redistributing it to serve their political purposes, perhaps the next flashy commercial for a monopoly we have no choice but to use should be the last such commercial. As for me, I figure that as one of APS’ roughly one million customers, $20 of my dollars has gone to fund political speech with which I disagree. I want my money back.

Court Rich is co-founder and senior partner at Rose Law Group where he focuses on renewable energy, regulatory, and land use issues. He can be reached at