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Arizona’s electric grid has vulnerabilities, but there are solutions

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Serving as the vice chairman of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board and having served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years, I can assure you that having reliable, accessible, sustainable, and affordable electric power is a national security imperative.

Increasingly, the energy that meets those criteria comes from advanced sources. And a grid of the future is smarter, cleaner, diversified, and taps into reliable, locally accessed energy sources.

The grid of the future will make our country more secure.

Lee Gunn

Lee Gunn

Forward-thinking action by Arizona leaders – policymakers, the business community and utilities alike – toward incorporating more advanced energy solutions like renewable energy, electric vehicles and distributed generation into the local grid can increase Arizona’s energy security and benefit the state, consumers and our collective overall national security.

Earlier this month I warned the the Arizona Corporation Commission that the vulnerability of our electrical grid today, and its security in the future constitute major issues for the United States, and Arizona is a key node in the western power grid.

As we diversify our energy portfolio and add more renewable energy resources onto our grid, this is also the time to secure it. Expanding Arizona’s investments in its vast renewable energy resources will help further the United States’ energy independence and at the same time better secure the state against outside threats.

We all have some work to do to help us get there. First and most problematic is the design of the electrical grid we have. It is based on a 100-year-old model and 100-year-old technology of large power generation plants and thousands of miles of high voltage AC transmission lines.

This results in three big problems:

  • Nearly everything is exposed and accessible making it at risk to a wide variety of threats including severe weather, physical and cyber-attack and accidents associated with age and human error.
  • The transmission lines have huge energy losses – nearly half of the energy we generate is lost in transmission.
  • The U.S. grid is divided into only three major grids, East, West and Texas – if one part goes down – is targeted – it could take down up to 1/3 of the country.

Through great U.S. ingenuity and technology, we can work our way out of this mess. Much of the technology we need already exists and we are on the verge of breakthroughs on others.

State government policy can be a driver or a barrier to advanced energy innovation and adoption. As seen in other states, incentives such as tax credits and strong renewable standards have accelerated the development and deployment of advanced energy.

For Arizona, a state with abundant sunshine, renewable energy is one of the most accessible and sustainable power sources. Arizona can and should lead the nation in renewable energy production with 299 days a year of abundant sunshine. Arizona’s renewable resources can deliver, if deployed at scale, costs below those on the global market.

Yet, Arizona’s current Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, or REST, requires regulated utilities to generate (or purchase) just 15% of total electricity sold from clean sources by 2025. When Arizona’s REST first took effect 12 years ago, it was one of the leading clean energy standards in the United States, but since then, all of the states surrounding Arizona have enacted higher renewable energy standards: California is 60% by 2030, Colorado is 30% by 2020, Nevada is 50% by 2030, New Mexico is 80% by 2040, and Utah is 20% by 2025.

An updated renewable standard coupled with more competitive renewable energy source bidding could save money for ratepayers. This would also demonstrate that Arizona is willing to join neighboring states in meeting all these challenges, to accelerate the adoption of advanced energy and help lead in the development of the secure grid that is vital for our country.

Diversifying Arizona’s investments in its plentiful renewable energy resources will also help further the nation’s energy independence and better secure the state and our grid against outside threats. States around the country are showing that we can build resilient, reliable electric systems based primarily on advanced energy innovation and technologies that take advantage of new energy storage systems.

A wider portfolio of energy options will boost Arizona’s renewable energy leadership and attract new businesses and economic investments, the kinds of businesses and investors that value clean and green efforts. Strong leadership and investment in renewable energy can provide Arizona a competitive and security advantage.

If any state can seize the opportunity to build the grid of the future – smarter, better, cleaner and local – it is Arizona. We can also achieve domestic energy independence –producing all the energy we need, now and in the future – by committing to the rapid deployment of advanced energy systems in places like Arizona.

Admiral Lee Gunn, U.S. Navy (retired), is vice chairman of the CNA’s Military Advisory Board

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