In our highly charged political environment, the question of whether to incorporate more renewable energy resources as part of our overall energy infrastructure is—as with most issues—often viewed in the prism of being either “left” or “right.” Unfortunately, this simplistic view distorts an increasingly important issue, and one that has much deeper significance than whether, from a political perspective, conservatives or liberals perceive renewable energy positively or negatively. In fact, transitioning to a more robust renewable energy portfolio has important implications for air quality, water supply, economic development, and national security.
Recently, representatives from our state’s utilities, business community, and political leaders met in a forum to discuss the value of expanding the sources that make up our electric grid, and the consensus was clear: the value of diversifying our energy portfolio and expanding our utilization of renewable energy options is not a left or right question, but an imperative that will have significant impacts on our state.
The forum was hosted by Greater Phoenix Leadership in conjunction with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Chamber, The Western Way, and moderated by Pat Graham of The Nature Conservancy. The impetus for the forum was a visit by retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn of the CNA Military Advisory Board, who gave a compelling presentation on how additional renewable energy facilities can enhance the national security of our electric grid; essentially, the message was that by diversifying the number and types of sources we use for energy generation, we make it more difficult for those who wish to do us harm to target our energy supplies.
Aside from the national security imperative, it is clear that the promotion of clean energy (e.g. solar energy creation and storage, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicle adoption, etc.) has significant positive impacts for Arizona from an air quality and water supply standpoint, not to mention augmenting economic development opportunities. APS and SRP are committing significant resources to this end and should be commended for their aggressive approaches to Arizona renewable infrastructure.
Regarding air quality, we know that Arizona struggles with air quality problems, which results not only in consequences for public health but for Arizona’s economy as well. That is because, when a state is out of compliance with air quality standards—or close to that limit—federal environmental regulations limit opportunities for manufacturing and business growth and expansion unless the state can show how it will offset the additional emissions that economic expansion might produce.
Yet, by investing in renewable energy technology, Arizona’s businesses, both new and expanding, can pursue development opportunities while still complying with federal air quality standards. For example, when an Arizona business voluntarily institutes a program to incentivize its employees to carpool or drive electric vehicles to work, the reduction in vehicle emissions can be used as an offset toward obtaining the necessary air quality permit for expansion. In general, Arizona’s business community will be well served by promoting these types of emission reduction credits (ERCs), since there is no maximum limit on the amount of eligible reductions. In Maricopa County especially, air quality concerns are significant, and expanding the use of ERCs by, for example, installing workplace electric vehicle charging stations, will provide certainty that economic expansion will not be hindered by the federal environmental regulations.
With respect to water, recent analyses from various private and public entities continue to underscore the need to address Arizona’s current and future water supply needs. Although Arizona did significant work in 2019 to address surface water challenges through the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, it is clear that there is much work left to be done to address Arizona’s long-term needs. Here too, there is a robust nexus with renewable energy. Unlike traditional electricity generation, solar energy requires significantly less water. Continuing to invest in solar energy technology and other less water-intensive methods of electricity generation provides a real opportunity to accommodate our state’s growing energy needs while being mindful of our water usage.
Today’s political climate has become an all-or-nothing, zero sum game. When it comes to energy policy, too often those on the right ignore real environmental and conservation problems, and those on the left ignore legitimate concerns about loss of employment, economic growth, and individual freedom due to overburdensome government regulation.
It is time to move away from a polarized approach to renewable energy. Fortunately, Arizona businesses understand that a balanced approach to major policies facing the state is possible. Gov. Doug Ducey emphasized this point in his recent State of the State address, it is what we in Arizona call the “Arizona Way.” There is a genuine interest and commitment in moving toward, promoting, and expanding renewable energy development and usage. Arizona is in a premier position to move past the “right vs. left” arguments and pursue policies that embrace a meaningful renewable energy platform that will benefit our great state for many decades to come.
Jaime Molera is a partner with Molera Alvarez and Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.