Arizona’s Solar Future Decided Next Month

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Greentech Media. Author credit goes to Herman Trabish.

Arizona’s solar growth skyrocketed following passage of an aggressive Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in 2006 with a carve-out specifying that 30 percent of the renewables be solar.

But Arizona’s solar resource is so enormous the standard is being rapidly met, and it appears that only those who don’t understand or don’t want to see the state’s solar sector keep growing oppose upping the 15 percent by 2025 requirement.

solar power

image via Shutterstock

The decision to expand it must be made by the Arizona Corporate Commission (ACC), an independently elected body constitutionally empowered to regulate public utilities and facilitate business.

Democrats Paul Newman, Sandra Kennedy and Marcia Busching have for months called themselves the Solar Team because they back expansion of the state’s mandate for solar and other renewables. Newman and Kennedy are up for re-election and Busching is challenging a Republican incumbent.

They call Republicans Bob Stump, Robert Burns and Susan Bitter Smith the Trash Burner Team because of their support for a controversial measure recently passed that undermined the state’s solar mandate. Stump is being challenged by Busching, and Burns and Bitter Smith are challenging the Democratic incumbents.

The Trash Burner decision by the current, Republican-dominated Commission allowed Mohave Electric to substitute an 11-megawatt trash-to-gas power plant for part of its RES obligation. This was granted despite the fact that the original RES specifically ruled trash-to-gas as too polluting an electricity source to be substituted for renewables.

Mohave Electric CEO Tyler Carlson argued the trash-to-gas power plant could reduce costs to ratepayers by saving some of what the utility spends on solar. But “the trash-burner costs almost twice as much to build” and “twenty times more to run,” Democratic Commissioner Paul Newman told GTM. “What are they thinking, and whose interests are they serving?”

The election has been brutal. The Trash Burner Team was forced into a $29,000 settlement to avoid a misuse of public funds charge arising from money restricted to the ACC election that was spent on mailings tying the Solar Team to President Obama.

In a more recent mailing, the Republicans attempted to steal the Democrats’ edge by calling themselves a solar team.

The 15 percent RES came out of the ACC’s decision that growing solar would benefit the state’s economy, ratepayers and taxpayers. Arizona’s citizens and solar builders responded to it enthusiastically and the ACC made sure APS and TEP, the major utilities it oversees and two of the state’s three biggest, provided rebates commensurate with the mandate’s intent. Rooftop solar exploded.

The RES solar requirement will, by the end of 2012, have nominally been met, though it won’t be operationally met until the 280-megawatt Solana solar power tower project goes into service in 2013-14.

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