To hear Kris Mayes explain it, the super-heated debate over the use of solar energy and other renewable resources to help power the state has simmered down.
Arizonans have embraced it, a mandate has been established and new companies and technologies are beginning to gain a foothold to launch the Valley of the Sun into a “Valley of Solar.”
Mayes, chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, made that point March 23 during Morning Scoop, an Arizona Capitol Times -sponsored panel discussion at political hotspot Tom’s Restaurant and Tavern. (Watch the video here)
“There is no debate about whether we ought to be doing more solar energy and renewable energy. We should be, and most Arizonans believe that,” Mayes said as the gloomy, rain-soaked morning temporarily contradicted panelists’ widely held positions that solar opportunities abound.
Though the panel was solar-friendly, not everyone agreed.
The Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias said while the limited-government think tank is not against solar, they are against government mandates dictating energy policy.
The two have a history. The Goldwater Institute is suing the Corporation Commission over a mandate requiring providers to designate 15 percent of their energy production from renewable resources by 2025.
“The ACC does not have unlimited power to drive energy policy,” said Dranias, a constitutional attorney. “The debate is not over on that.”
The spirited discussion among panelists packed Tom’s Restaurant and Tavern as movers and shakers in business and legislative circles attended to hear the latest on renewable initiatives and what might hinder the state from being competitive in the marketplace.
The place broke out in laughter when panelist Chico Hunter, a senior engineer of Salt River Project’s Renewable Energies and Techologies Division, arrived late due to the rainstorm temporarily tripping the power at his home.
“Actually traffic was not bad. There was a flicker, and my alarm had (turned off),” he said.
But attracting the renewable energy industry to Arizona is serious business.
Twenty-nine states have aggressively pursued renewable energy policies, with many of them – including Arizona – handing out tax breaks in the hunt for new companies and technologies.
“I appreciate the fact that Nick can come here and talk about theory. I appreciate the fact that he is able to live and work in a think tank,” Mayes said. “But the rest of us live and work in the real world.”
Dranias said more states should look toward Texas, where open competition and few mandates have spurred lower energy rates than Arizona.
“We do live in the real world at the Goldwater Institute,” he said. “One of the things we do know is that politicians do not manage economies well.”
The need for energy independence, or “energy security,” as one panelist put it, was best illustrated in the summer of 2003, when Arizonans got a lesson in supply and demand. The gas line rupture near Tucson sent fuel prices soaring and caused near-panic at stations, where fuel was in short supply.
“The pipeline break in 2003 told us this state does not have a lot of indigenous energy sources,” said Bud Annan, former head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s solar program who now heads Science Foundation Arizona’s Solar Technology Institute. “Most of it comes from out of state, with one exception: Solar energy.”
More recently, H2701 would have been the biggest setback to Arizona’s fledgling solar industry. The bill would have established the Legislature – not the Corporation Commission – as the exclusive authority to establish energy policy in the state. It also would have allowed nuclear power providers to take advantage of incentives.
Suntech Power Holdings – the China-based multi-billion dollar corporation that announced it was moving its headquarters to Arizona just months after the state last year passed a law offering incentives for renewable energy – may have pulled out had the legislation passed.
Even Marty Shultz, vice president of government relations for APS, whose company operates the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant, said it would have been bad for the industry.
“The industry found that any action taken by the Legislature to create an uncertainty in the marketplace is something that you just can’t stand at the present time,” he said.
Though the bill did not advance to the governor, it still could have lasting effects.
“I fear we could lose additional manufacturers of solar panels because of this bill,” Mayes said.