WATCH: Sen. Kelly Discusses Key Arizona Infrastructure Priorities Passed by Energy & Natural Resources Committee

Today, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed infrastructure legislation that includes key Arizona water and power priorities championed by Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, as well as legislation that Kelly introduced this week to expand the use of energy demand-response programs to save consumers money and prevent the grid from collapsing during times when Arizonans need it most. 

The Energy Infrastructure Act, approved by the committee, is one piece of the larger bipartisan infrastructure package that is being spearheaded by a group of 22 Democrat and Republican Senators including Senator Kelly.   

During remarks just ahead of the committee vote, Kelly discussed the drought and heatwaves facing Arizona, and highlighted the bill’s landmark investments in western water infrastructure.  The bill would provide $3.23 billion to repair aging U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects and improve water efficiency in agriculture irrigation districts.  Another $1 billion is proposed for desalination and water recycling projects for state, tribal, and local governments. The bill also contains full funding for the Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan to implement water conservation measures in Arizona, Nevada, and California. 

“In the 21st century, drought, heatwaves, and wildfires will be one of the biggest challenges in our state,” said Senator Kelly.  “This bill confronts these challenges head-on, and I am proud to support it.”

You can read a transcript of Senator Kelly’s exchange below. Watch his full remarks HERE.

“Mr. Chairman, thank you. 

I just have a couple remarks on the bill we are about to vote on today. It is incredibly important to the state of Arizona, and it’s an investment in our nation’s energy and also western water infrastructure, an indispensable piece of the larger bipartisan infrastructure package that I, the Chairman, and 20 other members are working on to bring to the floor. 

Today, I want to highlight the provisions of this bill that matter most to the state of Arizona, namely, the important actions the bill takes to preserve and sustain our critical water and energy futures.  

Affordable and reliable electricity is the backbone of our state’s modern, technology-driven economy.  And water is the lifeblood of our farms, our cities, our tribal communities, and our precious ecosystems.  

Now more than ever, we need water and power security in the face of scarcity.

Year after year, the west struggles with brutal, prolonged drought, searing heatwaves, wildfire, and in the case of Texas, polar blasts that are straining an already vulnerable electrical grid. We are witnessing this in real time, across the country and especially in arid western states like Arizona. We’re facing the worst heat wave, some of the worst drought we’ve seen in generations, and wildfires as well. 

Climate change and declining snowmelt have caused water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to drop to their lowest levels on record. These are our nation’s two largest man-made reservoirs that supply water to 41 million Americans. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts a 58 percent chance that our state may lose up to a quarter of its Colorado River allocation beginning in 2025. That’s only four years away.

That’s why passing this bill is absolutely imperative to Arizona. We need to act now to improve water storage and make Arizona more resilient to drought and extreme weather events.  We can’t afford to do otherwise.

This bill contains $3.23 billion for repairs to aging reclamation projects and improvements to agriculture irrigation districts that are inefficient and that are wasting water.    

It also includes a $1 billion for desalination and water recycling projects for state, tribal, and local governments — technologies that I strongly support.

And the bill authorizes full funding for the Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. This plan will implement water conservation measures in Arizona, Nevada, and California.

This bill also includes a provision I introduced to expand the use of energy demand-response programs to save consumers money and prevent the grid from collapsing during times when Arizonans need it the most.

Last summer, a regional heatwave that spanned 12 western states drove up demand for electricity that exceeded the supply.  While California was forced to implement rolling brownouts, Arizona was able to keep its lights — and more importantly its air conditioning on. 

We accomplished this through a widespread deployment of networked smart thermostats in tens of thousands of homes and buildings. These smart devices were remotely adjusted –  turned off the AC – by utilities to conserve power during peak demand.  

In exchange for their voluntary participation in these conservation efforts, customers received a rebate or discount.  Some Arizona utility companies were even able to sell excess energy to California and post the revenue to customer’s monthly statements — remember this was during a heatwave.

My legislation included in this infrastructure bill would direct state utility regulators to take a hard look at their demand response programs and consider modeling incentives similar to those used in Arizona.

In the 21st century, climate-induced drought, heatwaves, and wildfires will be the biggest environmental challenge in our state. This bill confronts these challenges head-on, and I am proud to support it. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”