by Will Greene
Public sentiment towards energy in Arizona is straightforward and consistent. Repeated surveys portray an unabashed support for solar energy and a strong desire for a transition from fossil energy sources among members of the public.
Highlights of a few recent opinion studies:
2013 Colorado College “Conservation in the West Poll” conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Assoc. and Public Opinion Strategies:
-“Sixty-two percent (62%) of voters say that it (solar) is the first source of energy they would encourage the state to use more of. No other power source was the first choice of more than 40% in any of the other Western states we surveyed.”
2013 Public Opinion Strategies Poll (conducted by a Republican pollster):
-“A Republican elected official who voted to end the solar power program would also be putting him or herself at risk in a primary, as 60% of Republican primary voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to end the program.”
-“When asked which of many sources of energy they would MOST want to encourage the use of in Arizona, more than half (52%) of voters say solar power, making it far and away their top choice. Among just Republican primary voters, solar power again easily tops the list, with 40% of Republican primary voters saying they most want to encourage the use of solar power, followed by natural gas at 19%, nuclear at 14%, energy efficient efforts at 6%, oil at 5%, wind power at 5%, and coal at 4%.” (emphasis added)
-“Almost 90 percent of customers support a state renewable energy standard.”
-“9 in 10 (respondents) say renewable energy (is) worth the additional cost to develop it.”
-“Getting electricity from resources that will never be used up” was the top concern of respondents followed by (in order) “avoiding electricity outages on hot summer days, reducing radioactive wastes, minimizing air pollution, keeping electricity rates low, reducing emission of gases, creating jobs in Arizona, using power produced in Arizona, generating your own electrical power, and avoiding facilities that detract from scenic beauty.”
-“Across all four surveys, participants overwhelmingly favored increased use of renewable energy sources – solar and wind. Equally striking was the participants’ consistent call, across all four surveys, for a reduced dependence on coal as an energy source.”
2011 Survey of Arizona Voters conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Assoc. and Public Opinion Strategies:
-“More than four in five say that it is time to start replacing coal with renewable energy sources.”
Ironically, the most dominant source of electricity in Arizona is the source viewed most unfavorably – coal. The most popular sources, solar and other renewables, are the least common. The public is clear; they want an energy transition. Thanks to the plummeting cost of solar, a transition from coal to solar would be relatively painless for ratepayers and would keep energy dollars in the state. In a time of so-called record partnership, the desire for this transition is broad and bipartisan among the public.
Yet political observers should not hold their breath waiting to hear any version of “energy transition” from Arizona’s elected officials. At the Arizona Corporation Commission, our state’s primary energy-policy arena, recent actions cut independent solar installers at the knees, leaving much of Arizona’s solar growth in the hands of the utilities. In doing so the ACC saved ratepayers a few cents per month while dealing a significant blow to commercial solar installers. Now the ACC has its sights set on net metering, the arrangement that grants home and business owners the ability to earn credits for excess electricity they generate off their roof. Without net metering, Arizonans would be left completely dependant on monopoly utility companies and their fossil electricity.
Arizona Republicans reacted with horror to revelations of upcoming EPA clean-air-action at Navajo Generation Station (NGS), the West’s largest coal plant in Page, AZ. While Republicans in our state may calculate that decrying the EPA is popular among party faithful, their response was limited to a rebuke of federal action at NGS. By forgoing a timely opportunity to present an energy vision of “transition-to-renewables” at NGS, state Republican leaders showed they are well behind GOP primary voters in energy outlook. Democratic response to developments at NGS has amounted to a whimper. It seems despite the overwhelming unpopularity of coal as an energy source, Arizona’s elected officials have unanimously decided that talk of a coal phase-out is prohibited.
This bewildering circumstance was especially apparent after Democratic Rep. Ron Barber’s recent defense of Southern Arizona’s largest coal plant, Apache Generating Station. Barber’s intention to see the coal station “viable well into the future” highlights the disconnect between the people’s desire for an energy transition, and the energy outlook of our current set of leaders.
While leadership on energy from elected officials would be a welcome development, the public would likely be content if elected officials would simply catch up to where they stand.