Rep. Gabrielle Giffords hosted a solar summit last Wednesday which discussed solar power policy goals for Arizona. Two fascinating points emerged from the discussions.
First, many thought the early projections for distributed solar in Arizona were overly ambitious and could never be met. The opposite has occurred. Such plans are hugely popular. Second - and this is something proponents of renewable energy should keep in mind - the emphasis for Arizona renewable power wasn't that it would be clean energy but that it is about the only way to provide Arizona with the huge increase in power that Arizona will need in the coming years.
Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes explains:
"If we were going to do that the same old way we always did it, we would have had to build four new Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Stations, eight new Hoover Dams or 28 new combine cycle natural gas plants. I don't know about you, but I don't know where we're going to put all that stuff."
That's precisely the point. Approaching renewable energy from a practical, business-oriented viewpoint will gain more adherents than making scary predictions about climate change.
Solar power is certainly a natural for Arizona. Just ask Tucson Electric Power. They ran out of funding for residential rooftop solar incentives just three-quarters of the way through the year, earlier than ever before. This was largely due to the huge popularity of leased systems, something which is controversial and may not be included in next year's funding for renewables incentives. Such leased systems require homeowners to pay a flat fee for twenty years while the company that owns the solar installation gets tax credits up front and fast. Some wonder if the companies will still be there in twenty years. But still, the huge popularity of residential solar in Arizona shows that people want renewable energy, and they want it now.
A consortium of power providers in Arizona, working with Western Area Power Administration's Transmission Infrastructure Program, is planning to build a large-scale transmission line from renewable energy sources in Maricopa and Pinal counties to the Palo Verde electricity trading hub. When completed, it will provide 254 MW of renewable energy and will be funded partly by a $91 million loan from the U.S. Treasury. This is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and is designed to create a 15-state grid of renewable energy in the West.
Renewable energy, especially solar power, is moving ahead at a rapid clip in Arizona. Phoenix has made a concerted and successful effort to attract solar companies to the region. This means more jobs and more money being pumped into the local economy. With the right planning, Arizona could create thousands of lasting jobs in the solar power industry, generate all of its own power, and be an exporter of power to other states. This is a win-win situation.