Big changes would be in store for Arizona’s energy landscape under two proposals that have emerged over the last two months.
First to appear on the scene was a plan by Andy Tobin, a member of the commission that regulates the state’s utilities. It would set a goal for 80 percent of utilities' energy portfolios to come from "zero net emissions" sources, including nuclear, by 2050. The plan includes goals for large-scale energy storage, biomass energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicle infrastructure.
More ambitious is a proposed constitutional amendment to require that by 2030, 50 percent of the energy sold by the state’s regulated utilities -- a category that doesn’t include Salt River Project -- come from renewable sources, not including nuclear.
Current state rules adopted in 2006 set a goal for utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewables, not including nuclear power, by 2025.
Tobin’s plan would need to be broken down into rules passed by the Arizona Corporation Commission’s elected members while the ballot measure would need 225,963 signatures to get on the November ballot. Among the measure’s backers is NextGen America, a group associated with billionaire Tom Steyer that is pushing increases in renewable energy standards in Michigan and Nevada as well.
Renewable energy advocates have cheered the plans and say both are achievable, or very challenging but achievable, considering current trends in renewable pricing and shifts already happening with energy technology and management.
But how would they actually be accomplished? Here are some of the changes Arizona might expect to see:
More utility-scale wind and solar farms: Smaller renewable energy projects are more costly and labor-intensive, so it’s most likely that utilities would go for large-scale infrastructure if they were required to ramp up their renewable energy resources, said Karin Wadsack, a project director at Northern Arizona University who works on utility-scale renewable energy grid integration.
More storage: Technologies like chemical batteries help store the power generated by wind turbines or solar panels, saving it for times when power is needed but those sources aren’t generating. Other options for storage include a tiered reservoir where water is pumped into the upper reservoir when renewable power is plentiful, then run through turbines into the lower reservoir to generate electricity during high-demand times, Wadsack said.
Broader networks: Managing renewables that are more variable and can’t simply be turned on and off, would require a shift to more regionalized systems that allow utilities to buy, sell and transfer energy across a greater area and on a shorter time scale than they are doing now, said Amanda Ormond, a clean energy policy consultant. A setup where one entity manages the power flows for many utilities across a region is already common in other parts of the country and Ormond estimated Arizona is five to 10 years away from something similar. Instead of managing power in hour-long increments, the next step for utilities to bring on more wind and solar is to operate in five-minute increments, Wadsack said.
“It’s a matter of software and capability, it’s not something that's technically infeasible,” she said.
Electric vehicles: If managed well, electric vehicles can be a useful way to manage energy demand because people can charge them during the day when there is lots of excess solar on the system, Ormond said. That means they can be used as energy storage assets on the electric grid, charging when electricity is cheap and saving the power for later, said Kris Mayes, a professor of practice in utility law and energy policy at Arizona State University and a former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission. Electric vehicles can present challenges as well though because it will increase the amount of power a neighborhood uses, necessitating an increase in substations, Mayes said.
More transmission: Arizonans would see moderate buildout in high-voltage transmission to accommodate an increase in utility-scale renewable energy, Mayes said. An upgrade to the distribution system would also be needed to accommodate increases in rooftop solar installations and electric vehicles, she said.
Energy use management: Utilities like APS have already started encouraging consumers to shift their electricity use to off-peak hours and avoid spiking their energy use with things like peak energy rates and demand charges. Ormond said the next step is the widespread distribution of technology that allows people to easily manage their energy use using things like smartphones and automated, programmable devices and appliances.
“Controlling your home's energy use will become commonplace,” she said. “It sounds futuristic but if think about cars driving around without drivers, it’s all there. It’s just about getting it into the hands of customers.”
In an email to state legislators last month, an APS state and local affairs representative warned that the 50-percent-by-2030 ballot initiative would raise customers’ electricity rates by at least $500 per year.
“Limited-income and disadvantaged communities already spend an outsized proportion of their income on energy costs, and the initiative will further intensify this inequity,” APS’ Chad Guzman wrote.
But Ormond said she doesn’t see a rise in consumers’ energy bills playing out. She pointed to recent bids put out by renewable energy companies that commit to providing wind and solar energy, plus storage, for equal to or less than natural gas and other fossil fuels.
“Wind and solar energy are now being procured for less than new natural gas and less than a lot of existing fossil fuels so the economics have now flipped and the clean stuff is now cheaper than the dirty fossil stuff. That is an incredible paradigm shift,” Ormond said.
Even better answers to the cost question should come from an audit and cost analysis Tobin requested be completed by the state’s Residential Consumer Utility Office. He asked the office to compare his Arizona Energy Modernization plan with utilities’ current plans for energy resources and the renewable energy ballot initiative.
APS struck a supportive tone on Tobin’s plan, calling it a “bold, challenging vision for Arizona’s energy future.” It lauded the plan’s inclusion of nuclear energy as a source for fulfilling its goals. The company had nothing good to say about the ballot measure proposal.
“The ballot initiative by California billionaire Tom Steyer is irresponsible and bad for customers,” the utility said in a statement.
APS’s plan for future resources development, filed with regulators last year, provides a window into what the future will be like without a change in the state’s renewable standards. The utility’s plan calls for the addition of thousands of megawatts of new natural gas resources but no new utility-scale solar or wind projects for at least the next decade.
The new renewable energy proposals, meanwhile, seem to be going in the opposite direction, Ormond said.
A state's laws governing the sale, ownership and use of guns — or its lack of such laws — are a powerful influence on rates of suicide and of firearms-related homicide there, new research shows.
A study published this week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine finds that suicides carried out with a firearm are less common in states with strict gun laws than in states where gun laws are more relaxed.
In fact, the states with the strictest gun laws were found, on average, to have lower overall suicide rates as well. That is evidence that troubled people without access to a gun will not necessarily find another way to take their own lives, according to the authors of the study, a team from Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University in New York and the University of Pennsylvania.
None of the 48 continental United States is an island unto itself. When it comes to rates of gun-related homicides, the strength or weakness of a state's gun strictures mattered a lot — but so did the strength or weakness of gun laws adopted by that state's neighbors. Strict or not, the effects of gun laws in a neighboring state cross over state lines into the counties that adjoin it, the study authors reported.
Across the country, the highest rates of homicides committed with a gun were found in counties that were in a state with relaxed gun laws and were close to other states with few or no restrictions on guns.
A neighboring state could exert a positive influence as well. In counties in a state with lax gun laws, gun-related homicides were lower when a closely neighboring state had adopted very strict gun laws.
The authors of the new study discerned these patterns by combing through death records kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and organized by cause of death and county. They identified gun-related suicides and homicides by county between January 2010 and December 2014. Then, they looked at how those county-level firearms death rates aligned with the level of gun regulations in place both within the state and across neighboring states' lines.
The new research underscores the power of state gun laws at a time when federal lawmakers have declined to take action on firearms. Calls for legislation at the state level, especially in Florida, have escalated in the wake of a Feb. 14 school shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Fla.
"Because Congress has been unwilling or unable to act, the need for effective state firearm laws and policies in the United States has never been greater," Dr. Robert Steinbrook, JAMA Internal Medicine's editor-at-large, wrote in an editorial accompanying the new study.
The states are a patchwork quilt of laws governing the sale, licensure, carriage and use of guns. And like pretty much everything in the U.S. economy, firearms flow freely across state lines.
The distribution of death rates from firearms, however, is far from uniform across the country. Guns were the cause of death in 3.4 in every 100,000 deaths in Massachusetts that year, according to the CDC. In Louisiana, guns caused 21.3 of every 100,000 deaths, and 23.3 of every 100,000 deaths in Alaska.
Those facts have prompted a new line of firearms injury research focusing not just on whether and how well state gun laws work to reduce gun injuries, but how a neighboring state can support or undermine a state's efforts to curb gun violence.
One recent study, for instance, found that gun shows in Nevada — a state with very relaxed gun laws — were associated with short-term increases in violence in nearby areas of California. However, gun shows in California — which has the nation's strictest gun laws — were not linked with spikes in gun violence in neighboring Nevada.
The new research found that, across the country, the highest rates of homicides committed with a gun were in counties at the edges of states that had relaxed gun laws, and that were also close to other states with few or no restrictions on guns. Those counties tended to be scattered across the nation's Southeast states, stretching from eastern Texas to as far north as mid-Kansas, then to the east across Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi and into Florida.
But in counties in a state with very lax gun laws, gun-related homicides were found to be lower when a closely neighboring state had adopted very strict gun laws. Examples include the counties of Nevada and Arizona that are next door to California, and counties in the northeastern quadrant of Missouri that border Illinois.
"Strengthening state firearm policies may prevent firearm suicide and homicide, with benefits that may extend beyond state lines," the study authors concluded.
The Flagstaff City Council voted to postpone a first vote on the rezoning application for a 1,221-bed student apartment complex until the developer could consider some suggestions, including making a smaller building and setting aside spaces as affordable workforce housing and for the homeless.
The development, called Mill Town, is proposed by developer Vintage Partners as the final portion of a public-private partnership that includes relocating the Arizona Department of Transportation facility, realigning University Avenue and extending Beulah Boulevard. Mill Town is proposed to be built on Milton and University, where the ADOT facility is housed. ADOT will move into the former Harkins Theatre on Woodlands Village Boulevard.
Several members of the council expressed concerns about the proposed height of the building, which reaches 93 feet at its highest point -- a rooftop lounge.
Vintage was seeking the rezoning to place the property into the “highway commercial” zone, which matches most of the surrounding properties. The highway commercial zone allows a building’s roof pitches to reach 65 feet in height.
Last week, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted to grant Vintage two conditional use permits, one to exceed the height allowable in the zone, and one to rent by the bedroom. Conditional use permits are the commission’s responsibility to grant or deny, and an applicant can appeal a decision to the city council if they choose. However, the commission’s decision on the permit for the height will depend if the council chooses to grant the rezoning.
Walter Crutchfield, one of the partners at Vintage, also discussed the project with a group of about 14 interested residents at a public forum held at a Flagstaff coffee shop Monday afternoon.
During that forum, Crutchfield was asked why the development will be rented by the bedroom, a format that tends to favor students because each renter is on an individual lease, instead of traditionally by the unit.
Crutchfield told attendees Vintage and its partner company for Mill Town, Capstone Collegiate Communities, the developer of Fremont Station, have determined the renting by the bedroom format is the best way to recoup costs the project has already incurred.
As part of Vintage’s agreement with Harkins, Vintage would develop the new movie theater near the mall on Vintage’s dime, and Harkins would not be charged rent at the new facility for the first five years, Crutchfield told the group. The cost of converting the old Harkins building on Woodlands Village Boulevard is estimated to be $14.2 million, nearly double the developer’s original estimate, he said.
“Whatever we deliver has to cover costs,” Crutchfield said.
At the city council meeting Tuesday night, some members of the council asked if Vintage would consider setting some units aside to rent by the unit, not by the room, to be more accommodating for families. Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan asked Crutchfield if he would be agreeable to allowing some of the units to be occupied with people who have gone through the city’s Front Door program, which is a program for people experiencing homelessness.
Crutchfield told the council he was open to considering the different options, but said he would have to work with his team to see how viable each option would be.
A traffic impact analysis done for the project did not require Vintage to make any off-site improvements beyond the extension of Beulah Boulevard and the realignment of University Avenue that will be included in the project as part of Vintage’s public-private partnership with the city and ADOT.
Most of the worst-performing intersections are expected to remain badly performing with or without the new apartment complex, according to the traffic impact analysis. These intersections include Milton Road and Plaza Way, Milton Road and Riordan Road, the Target driveway and University Drive and other nearby intersections, mostly along Milton.
However, the analysis indicates that Mill Town will not have a significant impact on congestion at these intersections, with wait times expected to be less than two additional seconds for most of the listed intersections, which the analysis said are already performing at an “E” or “F” level.
Vintage has also proposed building an underpass beneath Milton for pedestrians and bicyclists to alleviate some traffic concerns for people crossing the street to and from Northern Arizona University campus.
“This should have been done years ago,” Crutchfield said.
As part of the public-private partnership, the city will pay Vintage at least $7.375 million to extend Beulah Boulevard and realign University Avenue on the west side of Milton. A roundabout will also be added at the intersection of Beulah and University.
The council voted to continue the hearing to its March 20 meeting, and will take a vote on the first of two needed readings of the zoning change at that time.
Kinsey Beebe was waiting for her mother to come pick up her up when she was shot and killed last week, according to Flagstaff Police reports.
Beebe, 19, was shot and killed on Feb. 28, allegedly after an argument with her live-in boyfriend, Adonis Encinas Velarde, 20, and his friend, Abraham Puentes Ortiz, 22, over a gun.
The first officer on the scene of the shooting said he found Beebe unresponsive on a bed with her cellphone in her lap. The phone was ringing with a call from Beebe’s mother.
Officers later stopped Beebe’s mother on the sidewalk outside of the home and told her that her daughter had been transported to Flagstaff Medical Center. An officer was able to drive her to FMC, where she found out that her daughter had died.
Beebe’s mother told officers that her daughter had called her earlier that evening and asked her to come pick her up because her boyfriend was mad at her and had accused her of stealing his gun. Then she heard Beebe drop the phone. Beebe’s mother had tried calling her back, but got no answer.
According to police, Beebe’s roommate was one of the first people to call about the shooting. According to police reports, she told officers that Beebe had met Velarde at work and had been living with him in the house for about a month.
The roommate said Velarde had come home that evening with a friend who was wearing a blue bandana and had the nickname “Smokey.” The roommate said Velarde was acting oddly and appeared to be under the influence of something.
She said while she was putting her children to bed, she heard Velarde arguing with Beebe. Then she heard three shots. She found Beebe on the bed and grabbed one of her children’s phones to call 911. Velarde and his friend had already fled the house.
According to a police press release, Velarde and Ortiz had been drinking with Beebe earlier in the evening when the two men fired a shot outside the home with a Ruger handgun. Beebe confronted the men about their behavior, pointing out that there were other people living in the immediate area. The men put the gun inside the house and went for a walk. While they were gone, Beebe hid the weapon.
When they returned, there was an argument with Beebe over the gun. Beebe made a phone call and Ortiz allegedly pointed his own handgun at her and shot her. The men then fled the house in a dark vehicle.
According to police, the men then drove to a home on North Sanford Place in Smokerise and fired two shots at the home. One of the home’s residents told officers that his brother had filed a police report about some items that were stolen last week and named a suspect in the theft. The resident thought the suspect may have called some friends to do a drive-by shooting of the home over the report. The resident said he knew Velarde from work but didn’t think he was the shooter.
Officers later received a call from a gas station clerk on Milton Road. He told officers that Velarde had come into the store looking to purchase a bottle of water and asked for a pay phone. He allegedly told the clerk that he had been involved with a shooting with his girlfriend but did not do the shooting and wanted to turn himself in.
According to a police press release, Velarde told officers that after the drive-by shooting, Ortiz and Velarde drove to Ortiz’s home in the 700 block of Blackbird Roost. Velarde fled the home concerned that Ortiz might shoot him. Ortiz was later arrested at his home as he was leaving for work. Officers found a loaded Glock handgun on him. They also removed a loaded AR-15 rifle from the home and found a Ruger handgun at Beebe’s home. According to police spokesman Sgt. Cory Runge, someone had attempted to scratch the serial number on the Ruger off. Runge said that none of the guns were reported as stolen.
Velarde was booked into the Coconino County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, disorderly conduct with a weapon, discharging a firearm in the city limits, drive-by shooting of an occupied structure and assisting a criminal street gang. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also placed a "detainer request" for Velarde on suspicion he is in the country illegally.
According to Flagstaff Police Department policy, if an officer stops or detains a person and develops a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally the officer is to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Coconino County Sheriff's Office employees are similarly required to contact federal immigration officials on anyone booked into the jail who they reasonably suspect is undocumented.
Ortiz was booked on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, disorderly conduct with a weapon, weapons misconduct, drive-by shooting of an occupied structure and assisting a criminal street gang. According to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Ortiz appears to be a U.S. citizen.
Both men have had prior minor run-ins with local law enforcement, according to local court records. Velarde has three traffic tickets from Flagstaff Municipal court for two counts of driving without a license and a DUI. He also has a criminal complaint for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Ortiz has a criminal ticket for drinking under the age of 21 and two traffic tickets, one for failing to stop for a red light and the other for failing to stop for stop sign.