Solar advocates in Arizona are celebrating a victory -- Republican Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) veteran Gary Pierce has withdrawn his proposal to alter the state’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) and reduce the 15 percent renewables by 2025 requirement on Arizona’s investor-owned utilities.

After Pierce’s informal and unexpected proposal for the cut in January, “defenders of Arizona’s solar future sprang into action,” wrote Arizona blogger Will Greene. Environment Arizona led a rally and announced opposition, while CREDO Action progressive activists started an online petition that won nearly 7,000 signatures and leveled a flurry of opposition calls and emails at the ACC.  

Solar champion Gabby Giffords’ successor in the U.S. Congress, Representative Ron Barber (D-AZ), pointed out that a REST cutback would cost the state renewable energy jobs.

Pierce pulled his proposal last week, noting the “talk out there about it." 

“Score a victory for an engaged citizenry,” Greene wrote.

It is an especially important victory because, as reported in the just-released GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Year-in-Review 2012 report, Arizona was among the nation’s top five markets for residential, commercial and utility-scale solar last year and is projected to be so again.

Source: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Year-in-Review 2012 report

Pierce was a leader when, in January, the five-member ACC eliminated the performance-based incentives (PBIs) provided to commercial solar system buyers by the state’s two investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and drastically reduced the upfront incentives (UFIs) provided by the IOUs to residential solar system buyers. He has been heard to publicly describe supports for renewables as “a monster.”

With attacks on renewables standards led by fossil and nuclear advocates in at least nineteen states from Maine and North Carolina to Wisconsin and Oregon, some regard the Arizona popular uprising as a template for a successful grassroots response.

“Poll after poll shows Arizonans want more solar,” former ACC policy advisor Nancy LaPlaca noted. That is equally true of polls about solar throughout the country. The surveys show that voters know, as LaPlaca put it, that “solar displaces fuel costs, which are in fact 'monstrous' because of the uncounted enormous health costs, dirty air and water, and climate change" that they also entail.

But Arizona observers say Pierce probably had to withdraw his proposal to weaken the REST when he realized some of his fellow Republicans on the ACC would not support it. He was apparently caught so off-guard by the lack of support that he is now denying he ever meant to make the proposal, according to sources close to the situation.

At least three commissioners, one Arizona solar professional observed, had campaigned on the promise not to cut the REST and are moderate enough to be inclined toward pro-business Republican Governor Jan Brewer’s concern with supporting business and job creation, especially with Arizona’s solar industry now going through major changes in the wake of ACC actions, along with Suntech’s financial difficulties.

The proposed REST change could have also worried Republican and putatively pro-business Arizona legislators, the Arizona source added, who last year passed up the opportunity to alter the REST because of the potential impact on the state’s already troubled economy.

Pierce’s decision to withdraw his proposal, GTM’s source said, could have been less a response to the popular uprising than a recognition that he didn’t have the votes at the ACC, as some moderate Republicans are returning to their pro-business roots, even if that business is solar.