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Arizona Becoming a Leader in Renewable Energy

by Bob Morris, published

California gets most of the glory for renewable energy and perhaps rightfully so. As of 2010 it had 27% of installed solar power in the country with 12% of the population. Yet Arizona had 6% of the installed solar with just 2% of the population. (Nevada and Colorado did even better. Both had a 6% share with 0.86% and 1.61% of the population, respectively.)

Arizona clearly has huge solar and wind power potential. The sun shines 300 days a year, and there’s plenty of wind too. As is true elsewhere, much of energy in Arizona is from coal. It is also an exporter of energy, as coal plants on Native American land help power Los Angeles and other areas. But new mandates for coal plants mean that large sums of money will need to be spent to upgrade them to cleaner standards. At some point it becomes more cost-effective to invest in clean energy rather than try to retrofit aging dirty energy plants.

The Curbing Carbon Forum, sponsored by The Southwest Renewable Energy Institute, was held in Phoenix in January and discussed many of these issues.  Most importantly, they emphasized, the transition to clean energy is happening, inexorable, and supported by a majority of Arizonans.  Chief among the changes needed is a smarter grid, decentralized and varied sources of power, and increased efficiency of power usage. Indeed, too much energy is wasted, either by transmitting it hundreds of miles from Apache land in Arizona to Los Angeles or from “vampire” home appliances and electronics that suck power even when turned off.  Smarter electronics and ways of generating power could probably cut consumption substantially with little or any effect on most people.

The Bureau of Land Management has identified 237,000 acres of Arizona land as suitable for renewable energy and is setting aside some of the land so permitting can be further explored.  Much of the land is already disturbed and was previously used for mines, landfills, and agriculture. This could lessen environmental concerns since the land is no longer pristine.

GE has bought a stake in the 137 MW Arlington Valley Solar Energy II plant in Arizona. Among other things, they were attracted by the power plants not needing natural gas or coal as fuel.

Renewable energy is coming to Arizona in a big way. It’s heartening to see this isn’t a partisan political issue and that people and politicians from all sides support it.

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