- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - The state’s newest utility regulator said Tuesday he won’t vote on matters involving a major rooftop solar company and possibly issues involving the state’s largest electricity provider because of a conflict of interest.

Former Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin was sworn in Tuesday to fill a Corporation Commission seat vacated when Susan Bitter Smith resigned while the attorney general sought her removal.

Tobin told The Associated Press that during a conflict review by Corporation Commission attorneys he advised them that his son-in-law recently took a job as an inventory specialist with Solar City in Dewey. Attorneys determined that triggered a “remote conflict” provision of the law and that he shouldn’t participate in votes involving the company.

Solar City is not regulated by the commission, but it is among solar firms that have been battling with Arizona Public Service over rooftop solar. Tobin said he may have to sit out an upcoming APS rate case and other matters involving the utility if it involves solar firms. He said he’ll have commission lawyers review each matter coming before the commission to be sure.

“I think we’re going to take every issue at a time,” Tobin said. “If it involves Solar City, the conflict rule would apply.”

Tobin said sitting out APS and solar issues won’t badly affect his ability to do the job because the commission has a broad range of regulatory issues before it, including securities, water and railroads.

“I think we can do it more than effectively,” Tobin said. “A lot of people don’t understand all the things the Corporation Commission does.”

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Tobin and stands by his decision, spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.

“The governor picked Andy Tobin for a couple reasons in particular,” Scarpinato said. “One, he’s long been a voice for rural Arizonans. Rural Arizona needs a voice on this commission, and Andy Tobin will be that voice.

“Two, he’s a man of great integrity, and the fact that’s he’s going to be very careful here to make sure there’s no issues in the letter or the spirit of the law speaks to that,” Scarpinato said. “Commissioner Tobin will make the right decisions.”

The five-member commission regulates electricity providers, water companies and other firms that hold monopoly power in the state, including setting rates. It also oversees securities regulation, railroad and pipeline safety and facilitates business incorporation. It has executive, judicial and legislative power over the firms it regulates.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich in November asked the state Supreme Court to remove Bitter Smith from office because her work as a cable television industry lobbyist and cable TV association director was a direct conflict that made her ineligible for office. She contends she had no conflict but resigned effective Jan. 2. The Supreme Court then dismissed the case filed by Brnovich because of the resignation.

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