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November 18, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Distracted Driving

  |   Video
  • The Arizona Department of Public Safety announced plans to crack down on drivers who text or use their phones while driving. Linda Gorman of AAA Arizona will discuss what this means for Arizona drivers.
  • Linda Gorman - AAA Arizona
Category: Law   |   Keywords: driving, safety,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Arizona Department of Public Safety is looking to crack down on distracted driving, this after a number of high profile accidents involving motorists texting and otherwise using their cell phones while behind the wheel. Here to talk more about all this is Linda Gorman from AAA. Nice to see you again.

Linda Gorman: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: What exactly is DPS planning to do?

Linda Gorman: They announced that starting in January, they are going to crack down on people who text behind the wheel. And what they are going to do is using an existing speeding statute that calls for people who are driving too fast or force conditions that are reasonable or prudent. So, people who are driving too fast, basically, that allows them to apply, basically, text messaging to this statute. So, the belief here is that there is really no safe speed to text and drive.

Ted Simons: If the law says you have to drive at a reasonable and prudent speed and you are texting, there is no prudent and reasonable speed while texting.

Linda Gorman: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Do we have a distracted anti-texting or driving law?

Linda Gorman: We do not have a specific law in Arizona that targets distracted driving. We have a text messaging law in Phoenix and in Tucson, so that applies to the cities only. But we don't have, as you mentioned, we don't have a statewide ban, for instance, on texting while driving, or distracted driving, as a category.

Ted Simons: The ordinances that are out there, what kind of enforcement numbers do you have or do you have those numbers now?

Linda Gorman: Well, it varies state by state, so if you look at, there are 41 states that have texting bans, so I think that shows, and we often hear, is this enforceable and can this be enforceable? And I think that the fact that we have so many states that have these types of laws in place is testament to the fact that it can be enforced. Not only that, but the fact that our own DPS is deciding that, you know, enforcement is a reasonable measure to ensure, or to try and curb, this behavior from happening. So AAA applauds that effort.

Ted Simons: And there was an accident back in the spring on I-8 involving a trucker, looking at his phone, and a DPS officer was killed. It's a big factor, I would imagine, in this crackdown?

Linda Gorman: Well, I would imagine that that is a factor, but the fact of the matter is that text messaging while driving is becoming a public health epidemic. There is no other way to look at it. In fact, if you look at 2011 numbers alone, 400,000 people who were driving or in vehicles, were injured as a result of someone being distracted behind the wheel. And it's not just something that -- it's not age discriminatory. But, if you look at the numbers, it's even more startling when you look at the youngest and most inexperienced drivers as they engage in this behavior, more than any other age group. So the fact of the matter is, it's a very serious threat to our safety, and we're glad that someone is looking at this.

Ted Simons: You mentioned an epidemic, and I was wondering with all this information out here, and the obvious example, and just common sense dictates that texting especially, is so wrong. It's not decreasing at all but increasing?

Linda Gorman: Mobile use is widespread. More people than ever have mobile phones, and a recent poll conducted by the AAA foundation for traffic safety showed that as many as one in three adults admitted to using their phone behind the wheel to read a text message or an email, and those are just people that admit to it.

Ted Simons: Right.

Linda Gorman: So, you know that it's something that people are definitely doing. And they also, despite this, they know that it's very dangerous. In that same poll, 90% said that they viewed text messaging or emailing while driving as a serious threat. So the stats show that it's dangerous, and it shows -- they show that people do it, and we have all these tragic examples of what happens when people can continue to engage in this behavior, so I think that really underscores the need that something needs to be done.

Ted Simons: All right, so, DPS is using this, this reasonable and prudent speed law to go ahead and crack down. And I would imagine, obviously, it's DPS, so the freeways, the highways will be the main focus here?

Linda Gorman: Well, all of the roads that they patrol, but we're hoping, and in addition to the enforcement campaign, I think that what's so important here is that this elevates the discussion, and it keeps public discourse focused on such a critical issue. So, it's very important that they are stepping forward, and as a leader in driver safety, we applaud them for doing so.

Ted Simons: And are there areas where this kind of thing happens more often? Are there times of day? I noticed you mentioned it is not age discriminatory, you mentioned that, But are there pockets of information where we can find out that, that --

Linda Gorman: No, unfortunately, the data doesn't show that a specific time of day or -- the only thing that we do know for sure, or that's really one of the scariest things, is that the younger generation doesn't show any signs of, putting their phones away. And so, that's why we think it's especially important to make sure that our youngest and most inexperienced drivers don't use the phone while they drive. The first 1,000 miles of driving are the most dangerous. So the more that we can do to minimize the phone while we're in the car, the better we are.

Ted Simons: As far as progress on new state laws, as opposed to the city ordinances, what's going on there?

Linda Gorman: 41 states have enacted a text messaging ban that just applies to text messaging, and here in Arizona, as I mentioned, we don't have a ban. AAA has been a proponent for many years, of a ban but in addition to that, we have been lobbying for the past few years on a ban to target new drivers, so wireless bans for all new drivers, those who have their permit, and those who are under the sixth-month phase where they are driving unsupervised. We believe that the first 1,000 miles are so critically that they need to focus on learning how to drive and become safer and better drivers.

Ted Simons: You mentioned most people, that are surveyed, say that it's a bad thing, it should be stopped and they wind up doing it anyway. But as far as lawmakers are concerned, why has this not become a state law?

Linda Gorman: Well, it's a philosophical discussion, and some believe that, you know, distractions are a broad category. There are a variety of issues, a variety of behaviors that can be in a distracted driving law. But we believe, and the stats show, that texting, reading an email, and those things, are the mother of all distractions. We know that every two seconds take your eyes away from the road, it doubles your risk of crashing, so it's very important.

Ted Simons: All right, well, very good, and thank you very much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

Linda Gorman: Thanks for having me.

Net Metering

  |   Video
  • The Arizona Corporation Commission voted to add a fee for those using rooftop solar panels. The new fee is 70 cents per kilowatt hour, which will add about $5 a month for a typical rooftop solar user. The fee was much less than sought by Arizona Public Service, which is seeking to reduce the subsidy given to solar power users by about half. Pat Quinn, director of the Residential Utility Consumer Office, will discuss the commission’s decision.
  • Pat Quinn - Director, Residential Utility Consumer Office
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: net metering, APS, solar panels,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Arizona Corporation Commission voted last week to increase fees to solar power customers by about $5 a month. APS says that still is not enough to offset an unsustainable cost shift from subsidized solar power users to non-solar customers. Pat Quinn is the director of the Residential Utility Consumer Office, a group that wound up being very much a part of this particular conversation. First, thank you for being here with us. Your thoughts on the Corporation Commission's ruling.

Pat Quinn: They did an outstanding job. They took a complicated issue, that was made more complicated with all of the sort of exterior things going on in the media and advertising and stuff. And, and they boiled it down to the fact that, while one side, the solar industry say there are no costs and the utility APS say there is a ton of cost, they took a nice, leveled approach that allows solar to continue in the state and not really harm APS in the near future.

Ted Simons: I think the solar industry is concerned, though, that this measured approach still starts a ball rolling, and once that ball gets rolling, it will go downhill and increase speed and mass. Is this just the beginning of more of this kind of conversation?

Pat Quinn: Well, it's the beginning because we're talking about rooftop solar is all we’re talking about. There are many other forms of, of distributed generation out there, and one of the things this came out of this decision, of the commission is they are going to start a docket and we'll look at the technologies out there, look at cost shifts and a lot of things before the next APS rate case because this is sort of the tip of the iceberg.

Ted Simons: I know Corporation Commission staff suggested waiting until the next APS rate case to tackle this. Did you think that that was a wise idea?

Pat Quinn: No. If we could have had rate case immediately, then I think it would have been a wise idea. But in the last APS settlement agreement, they were forbidden for coming in until 2015, so I did not want any more of this to go on until 2015, and let's look at it and we think that there are some issues, let's at least put a mechanism in place that, that starts to cover some of those shifted costs.

Ted Simons: And we should mention 77 cents per kilowatt per month fee added, that averages out between $4 and $5 a month?

Pat Quinn: It depends on the system.

Ted Simons: And this is the current rate payers and folks having their solar panels installed and grandfathered in?

Pat Quinn: They are grandfathered in, which is confusing. The commission in Arizona cannot set something for future commission; the future commission can always change what the current commission has done. So, generally, a grandfathering, we have had them in the past, it doesn't happen if they grandfather things like the 18,000 plus customers that we have now, and more than likely, nothing will change for those going forward. Everybody after, that buys after January 1 of 2014, that's not the case.

Ted Simons: An extra $5 or so.

Pat Quinn: Whatever the size is.

Ted Simons: What's the impact on solar lease agreements? First of all, explain those agreements because that seems to confuse matters a bit here.

Pat Quinn: Well, there is many options on how you can get solar. One of the ones popular now, and mostly what's being solar, is what they call zero down. So you, as a homeowner, put system on your roof, and you don't really pay anything, except a monthly lease. Generally, what the solar companies have told us is that they can save you about $5 to $10 a month that way. You may save $100 in electricity but you may be paying a $90 lease, so you are looking at a $5 to $10 margin, but you don't have any upfront money out of your pocket, either.

Ted Simons: And that $5 to $10 margin is taken up by the new fee.

Pat Quinn: That's right.

Ted Simons: Which is one of the reasons why the solar industry really, APS was looking at a higher fee.

Pat Quinn: Like ten times that.

Ted Simons: Exactly. Were you surprised by the ruling?

Pat Quinn: No.

Ted Simons: No.

Pat Quinn: I mean, if you looked at the five commissioners on Wednesday, they all put out what they wanted to do, and they were extremely varied. One commissioner wanted to put in the $50 plus a month, and another one at a $20 fee, which was what we said probably was the true costs were a $20 a month cost. But we wanted to phase it in over time to give the solar industry a chance to change their models. And so, three of the commissioners, the chairman, commissioner Bob Burns, and Susan Bittersmith, theirs were sort of centered around what we were talking about. And we thought there was a sweet spot there that we could combine some of those and make changes.

Ted Simons: The argument from APS is that basically, if you have solar panels, and you are selling electricity back to the grid, and I don't have solar panels, I have to wind up paying for infrastructure, the grid, as it were, because you are not. Is that a viable argument? And if it is, where in the world does it end? Because solar does not seem to be going anywhere.

Pat Quinn: Here's the problem with all of this. It is a viable argument. And you have the utility that's looking at historical costs. Let's take an example if you have a baseball ticket. What is it worth today? If you were the utility you would say I will look at my costs the last years and average them and I think it's worth $5. If look at the solar energy, they are going to say, let's look at what it is worth 30 years from now. You may have a suite and popcorn is more expensive, I think it's $100. Neither of those are germane to the issue. We looked at it and said there are some benefits of solar. But they are not many yet. What's going to happen is there should be more benefits of solar, but let's see when they come. One of the true ones, if you can push out when you have to build the next power plant, that's a benefit to the non-solar rate payers, too.

Ted Simons: So when APS says the cost shift from solar users to non-solar customers cannot be sustained, you are saying not necessarily?

Pat Quinn: Not necessarily. That's where we are going to do this in a rate case and some dockets before that. Their number is huge, and ours was not quite so huge, ours was 10% of theirs, so it's a difference of time. Any time you go from a regulatory type environment, to a different type of environment, which is distributed, generations are going to cost. There is a transition period and we wanted to make that as smooth as we could.

Ted Simons: How closely is this case here in Arizona being watched around the country?

Pat Quinn: Just before I came I read a story from Africa on it.

Ted Simons: My goodness.

Pat Quinn: So, it's being watched everywhere. There is a conference going on in Florida, the National Utility Association Regulating commissioners are down there. And they were speaking about it down there today. In fact, we had two good quotes, one from Moody’s, which said that this is not as big of a deal as everybody thinks, which we agree with. Think about it, it's 18,000 customers today, and maybe it's 19,000 now, and APS has a million customers. How much of a cost shift can there be today? When that number is ten times bigger and it's 200,000, then we have an issue.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and that's why you have to wonder about what is the end game here?

Pat Quinn: The end game is we have to come up with a reasonable way over time to figure this out. So, as we move to cover more of those costs, and there is a disagreement on how much is shift, but as you cover those costs, more and more, there may be some benefits coming in from solar. Some of us, and I am of them, believe down the road, and I don't know how many years, there may be more benefits coming in from the solar side, than there is cost shift, so that should go to help in the non-solar customers.

Ted Simons: We talked Board of Directors on the program before, but you are looking at a model that's changing so fast, some folks are having trouble keeping up.

Pat Quinn: Yes. And regulatory is not a model that changes fast.

Ted Simons: Yeah, well, all right. And thank you very much for making this clear for us, I know you are a big part of that discussion there, and thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

Pat Quinn: Thank you for having me.

Yarnell Evacuation

  |   Video
  • The evacuation of the town of Yarnell during the Yarnell Hill Fire was chaotic and fraught with problems. That’s according to a report in the Arizona Republic, which reveals that a dozen residents complained about the evacuation and experts agree that there were problems. Anne Ryman, a reporter who worked on the story, will talk about the issues with the evacuation of Yarnell.
  • Anne Ryman - Reporter, Arizona Republic
  • Sean Holstege - Reporter, Arizona Republic
Category: Community   |   Keywords: yarnell, evacuation, report,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Much of the fallout from last summer's Yarnell hill fire focused on the deaths of 19 members of a hot shot firefighting crew. But an Arizona Republic investigation is looking at concerns over how the town of Yarnell was evacuated. Joining us now are reporters Anne Ryman and Sean Holstege, reporters. Good to have you both here, and thank you very much for joining us. Great work, by the way. It must have been an exhausting job going through the information. Let's start with basics, though, describe the evacuation efforts during that fire.

Anne Ryman: The evacuation efforts were very chaotic. I mean, all evacuations are chaotic to an extent, but this one really, the people had very little time to get out. And they were told early on in the day, you might have to evacuate, and prepare to evacuate, and that when the final evacuation order came out, shortly after 4 o’clock, people were scrambling, and people were leaving, and fire was coming up to their homes.

Ted Simons: The evacuation was not early enough? Was that clear from what you looked at?

Anne Ryman: The fire experts that we talked to really thought that the evacuations should have been ordered sooner. The people should have had more time to get out. And keep in mind, most of Yarnell, a lot of them are senior citizens. So, that even is a more reason to give the people more time.

Ted Simons: That really is a factor there. And fire department, 9-1-1 dispatchers, from your story, it sounds like there was a lot of confusion.

Sean Holstege: There was a lot of confusion, and it's common in these experiences. Typically after a fire, the reports will talk about lack of communication, or lack of coordination, or problems in the handoff of leadership. And all those things appeared evident from the 9-1-1 tapes. We would hear, and dispatchers coming in on their shifts saying, hang on, I need to check, I'm not sure what's going on. Dispatchers late from the day, an hour after the evacuation, and telling residents, oh, no, you are on four-hour alert, a standby. And they, themselves, weren't sure what, of what they were supposed to be telling the public.

Ted Simons: Do we know why?

Sean Holstege: No, we don't. Some of it is the chaotic nature of those experience, and you understand what a dispatch center is, all the people on the telephones dealing with calls but also with incoming information, it's very loud and chaotic. And usually what will happen is we'll assign somebody to coordinate the messages, make sure everybody is on the same page, we don't know whether that happened or not but the message is going out, and we're unclear, and the messages coming in were unclear. At one point someone said we could have a trigger point which is fire jargon for they have hit a decision point where they need to move out or evacuate. And at first the officials said this is the one-hour notice for Yarnell and corrected himself, and ultimately it was the four-hour notice. But, they, themselves weren't sure.

Ted Simons: And with that uncertainty, what, some residents were either confused, some residents never got the information?

Anne Ryman: They did not, and there was a, a reverse 9-1-1 system, and there was a lot of, a lot of confusion about the system, and misunderstanding on how it works. And if you have a land line, you are automatically, you would receive the calls, about if you had a cell phone, and you had to sign up, specifically, to get the message, and so, it really became a grapevine where people were passing the information to each other. And sometimes, it was accurate. Sometimes it was not.

Sean Holstege: And, and sometimes the people that, that signed up, and knew that they were in the system, didn't get a call anyway, and we're not sure why. And the sheriff's office couldn't quantify that.

Ted Simons: And an action plan. Regarding all of this, the action plan was written the next day?

Sean Holstege: On the Monday after the burn-over of the hot shots and the evacuation and the burning of Yarnell, and just to clarify for the viewers, in big fires, it is standards procedure to write a plan as you show up, and as the events unfold the incident commanders, they will modify and amend that, and hand it off to the next incident commander when there is a shift change or the fire escalates, and that's the routine practice, a standard Federal requirement, and this was a state fire. And so, they were not required to do that, but it's a standard procedure, but they did not do it in this case.

Ted Simons: So, who was in charge?

Sean Holstege: State forestry.

Ted Simons: And then go down the chain, Yarnell fire and Yavapai county or --

Sean Holstege: Let me go in reverse, it breaks out with a lightning strike on Friday late afternoon, Yarnell fire department is the first on-scene. They did not respond because they could not get men up to the scene. There was confusion on whether it was state or BLM. It was state forestry so they put on a commander who runs there through Saturday. Sunday morning another incident commander for state forestry takes over because the fire has escalated, and only after the burn-over, and I forget the time now because we did not focus on this, did the Federal firefighters take over after the fact.

Ted Simons: And with all of this going on, any injuries? Any deaths because of or the lack of an evacuation?

Anne Ryman: There were two people who had minor injuries. This is probably the, the most dramatic story, a 63-year-old man, and, and his 85-year-old cousin. They did not have a car at the time and they actually had to walk out while flames were coming at them, and embers are falling all over, and they can only see five or six feet in front of them. And fortunately, somebody came along in a truck with emergency lights, and picked them up. And they still don't know who their mystery rescuer is, but they were saved.

Sean Holstege: And this goes to, to the issue of procedures. One of the things that our fire experts told us is while you have that plan, it sets in motion a chain of events in a logical fashion. Many states have ready, state go, for one hour, four hours, and immediate evacuation. And 410, and there is supposed to be a chain of events where you decide ok, now it's time- now it's safe and now it's not. And that did not appear to happen, and as a result of that, the Sheriff's deputies were themselves rushed, they are not supposed to knock doors or blare bull horns, it’s unsafe to them. None of this appeared to happen from anyone that we talked to.

Ted Simons: And yet it sounds as though the Yavapai county sheriff's office is saying, chaotic situation, fast moving fire, and everything worked as well as it could. Folks got their neighbors out, and folks did some work on their own, and what's the problem here?

Anne Ryman: They are using measure success that there were not any deaths, and to their credit, they did -- they were going through right after the evacuation order went out, and they were rushing through to try to reach as many residents as they could. Not everybody was able to get a knock on the door, though. Not everybody got a call. There is some that did not.

Ted Simons: And, again, back to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office and their response. It sounds like what they are saying, this is an awfully difficult situation, you mentioned the chaos, and how that has to factor in, and all things considered, did they not do as well as possible?

Sean Holstege: By the measure of getting everybody out, they did as well as they could have. The question is, could it have been more orderly and could some of that chaos have been avoided? If you talk to the fire experts, one of my fire experts said something that I did not put in the print, he said we have a lot of near misses. And we are lucky we did not have direct hits, meaning we are lucky that this chaos hasn't killed any civilians yet. And the reason why it can be more coordinated, is because they have -- everybody talks about second-guessing the fire but they had all the evidence that they needed on the Saturday to know how scary this fire could get, would get. But they did not seem to look at that evidence, is what the fire experts told us, so as a result, we have this chaotic evacuation that could have been less chaotic.

Ted Simons: Last question what are you hearing from residents up there, as far as how they thought the evacuation went, and now that they are reading your story and finding out a bit more?

Anne Ryman: I would say that, that the chaos and the flaw that is we wrote about is a common theme up there. A lot of people experienced that. We could only quote a fraction of the people that we talked to. There are many, many dramatic stories, and there are people that did decide to get out early, and they probably didn't have the same experience. There were an awful lot of folks getting out at the last minute.

Ted Simons: Is there dissatisfaction? Are they upset up there? Taking it as this is an act of nature and God? What are you hearing?

Anne Ryman: As far as the evacuation?

Ted Simons: Yes.

Anne Ryman: No, they do feel that they should have had more notice.

Ted Simons: All right, very good. Again, this is incredible work here, and great story and, and it's good to have both here to help us make better sense of it. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.