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Whistleblower Letter Calls Actions Against Solar Incentives In Arizona Into Question, Amongst Other Things

A recent whistleblower letter is calling into question a number of the actions taken by former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce (who retired at the end of 2014) during his service term. Of particular interest to us here at CleanTechnica are the actions taken that possibly relate to the derailment of solar energy incentives in the state.

The letter — which was recently sent to the Arizona Attorney General’s office and the Corporation Commission — makes a number of interesting allegations. With implications concerning Commissioner Pierce’s relationship with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the Arizona Public Service Company (APS), Don Brandt — which may apparently result in litigation concerning recent electricity rate hikes instigated by the utility.

arizona solar

With regard to that relationship, during the last 6 years of Commissioner Pierce’s time in office, he had 13 scheduled meetings with Brandt (as per his appointment calendar, obtained by a public records request) — 7 of which were during the two years that Pierce was the commission chair (2011-2012). (These are just the scheduled meetings, it should be remembered.)

These meetings may have violated commission rules — ones concerning conversations between commissioners and those appearing before them in cases involving setting electric rates — which means the potential is probably there for litigation concerning these rate increases.

An attorney who worked for the Arizona Corporation Commission for almost a decade, Tim Hogan, commented on the whistleblower’s letter: “It doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t look good, it’s shocking. The fact that APS had this kind of access to at least one commissioner is troubling.”

Especially considering that during Pierce’s time as commission chair, APS benefitted notably. As noted in the coverage by Arizona Central, Pierce “was one of APS’ biggest boosters, helping to derail electric competition, cut some solar incentives and push for an end to energy-saving programs. Along the way, Pierce and his son Justin got entangled in the dark-money controversies surrounding APS in last year’s elections.”


 

Here are some of the most interesting points from Arizona Central‘s coverage:

Pierce helped a political operative and friend, Ron Ludders of the Conservative Business League, steer money that targeted two Democratic candidates for the commission as election day neared in 2012.

Pierce, who was commission chairman at the time, hired the retired Ludders as a six-month “intern” the next year for research and policy work. Ludders was paid $9,000, according to commission documents obtained in a public records request.

According to the whistleblower, Pierce approached him in January 2013 with a plan to remove the top two officials at the commission’s Corporations Division. The whistleblower would become deputy director. The whistleblower alleges Pierce told him: “Commissioner Pierce indicated that if I did as I was told and if I kept secret the things that I knew I would be made deputy director of the Corporations Division. Commissioner Pierce told me an anecdote from his past about keeping secrets and the misfortunes that can befall people that do not keep secrets. I took this as a veiled threat.”

The whistleblower’s letter says Ludders needed urgent help filing paperwork to set up a corporation in early October 2012. Pierce directed the whistleblower to help Ludders “process the filing immediately.” The whistleblower described what Ludders said and did after the filing was done: “(He) spoke about the coming election. Mr Ludders said they had $186,000 in checks to destroy Commissioners Newman and Kennedy. He did so while patting the pocket of his suit jacket.”

Ludders said in an interview Tuesday he didn’t recall saying he had $186,000 in his pocket. But he did confirm he sent out 100,000 mailers promoting the Corporation Commission candidates and other Republicans on the ballot. When I asked him where he got the money for the mailers, he said: “FreedomWorks.” (An anonymous source, employed by FreedomWorks in Arizona during the 2012 election season, reportedly spoke to Arizona Central and stated that Ludders never got any money from the advocacy group. And, also, that FreedomWorks doesn’t get involved in state elections.)

Campaign finance documents and his appointment calendar indicate Pierce played a role in running the Republicans’ campaigns, through his consulting job at Mesa-based Americopy.

Those looking for more should read the whistleblower’s letter itself, which can be found here. It’s quite interesting, but none of it is really surprising — it’s an interesting look into that part of our political system.

Given the current state of solar support in Arizona, it had more or less been my guess that there was a fair amount of this sort of behavior going on. I suppose that this might just be the tip of iceberg, though.

Image Credit: Public Domain

 
 
 
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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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