by Will Greene
2012 was a decisive year for the environment and clean energy in Arizona.
Banner year for solar installations
2012 represented a strong year for the solar industry, especially for project developers and installers. The industry made headlines in the 3rd quarter when Arizona solar installations nearly outpaced California, with 192.1 megawatts installed (enough electricity to power roughly 40,000 Arizona homes).
The widespread deployment of solar in Arizona this year, despite shrinking incentives from the Republican-controlled Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), can be attributed to popular financing options such as residential solar leasing, and continued cost efficiency gains in the production of panels and support systems.
In March Arizona’s largest electric utility, Arizona Public Service (APS), released its 2012 Integrated Resource Plan showing just how fast the cost of solar has come down. The plan contained a bombshell finding: if all factors are taken into account, including regulatory constraints, the cost of solar electricity is lower than coal and nuclear while on par with natural gas generation.
Republicans at the ACC reject any consideration of the external costs (health impacts from air pollution, climate change) that are (partially) taken into account when regulatory constraints are included, such as in the APS’ cost comparison above. APS is smart to consider these very real costs as they compare generation sources. Unfortunately in the report, APS indicates its intention to invest heavily in natural gas, despite the source’s cost parity with solar – proving once again that we can always count on our utilities to do the right thing, after they’ve tried every other option.
Heather Macre’s election to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board
Macre’s election to the board that oversees management of the CAP canal and sets policies related to the pricing of water, was a big step in the direction of creating a sustainable economy in Arizona. Macre, a young Phoenix attorney ran on a platform of long-term water planning that takes into account the extended drought conditions predicted for our region as a result of warming temperatures. The Arizona Republic wisely endorsed Macre, stating, “among the candidates, she's the only one who raises climate change and its effect on water supplies as an issue the board should consider. She says she would push for a more diverse energy portfolio, preparing for the day the Navajo Generating Station goes offline.”
The next step for behemoth coal-fired Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is shaping to be a contentious area of focus in 2013 and the coming years. Macre has the opportunity to be a leading voice calling for a more sustainable, less coal-dependent future for NGS and the CAP canal.
Advocate Stacey Champion’s efforts to defeat a sneaky anti-sustainability bill at the state capitol
You can read a great synopsis from Grist of what Champion accomplished. She makes the “best” list because her work showed the positive impact one engaged citizen can make.
Last spring, Republican Sen. Judy Burges took advantage of a procedural move called “strike everything”, allowing her to take a completely unrelated bill (entitled “unemployment insurance; technical correction”) and write conspiracy theory-based legislation that could have caused harm to sustainability efforts. The legislation was intended to prevent state, county, or city governments from “adopting or implementing the creed, doctrine, principles or any tenet of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.” Burges saw the non-binding Rio Declaration, whose principles included protecting the Earth and fighting poverty, as ruthless attempts at creating a one-world order.
Champion learned of the bill, and became a pest for those trying to pass it. She alerted the mayor of Phoenix, reporters at the Arizona Republic, and brought undesired attention to the bill, which eventually made national headlines. Thanks to her work, and that by Sierra Club’s Sandy Bahr and others, the legislation failed to move forward.
Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) election
The ACC has nearly all of the authority to set energy policy in Arizona, serving as the regulatory agency overseeing Arizona’s investor owned utilities and co-ops. It’s decisions therefore hold enormous ramifications for our environment and economy.
For decades, and up until this Monday when our new commissioners are sworn in, the ACC has had members who recognize the vital potential solar energy holds for Arizona. The passage of the Renewable Energy Standard (RES) by an all-Republican Commission in 2006 set the minimum level of renewable energy, 15% of total generation by 2025, that our utilities must produce. The commissioners understood that it was going to take strong policy to shake the utilities out of their fossil-based comfort zone. They also understood that although integrating renewables might mean some growing pains for the utilities, and a very slight initial increase in costs for ratepayers, the future would be brighter with a solar-based economy.
Our new Commission – Republicans Gary Pierce (Chairman), Brenda Burns, Bob Stump, Susan Bitter-Smith, and Bob Burns – do not understand the value solar holds for our economic and environmental future. Their election, and the defeat of the Solar Team candidates, was the worst development of 2012. Arizonans should be concerned for the future of Arizona’s important net-metering solar incentive program, which could be the new Commission’s first victim.