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Commission should see difficult times magnify need for renewable energy

Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011. A new report says installation continued to be the largest job sector in solar-related industries last year. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

(Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Cheap, reliable, and clean electricity is important in the best of times, but it becomes most critical in times like these, where we face fear, uncertainty, and economic hardship.

Arizona ratepayers need the Arizona Corporation Commission, utilities, and Gov. Doug Ducey to watch out for them during this pandemic, and beyond. That means advancing an innovative diversified clean energy economy that’s resilient during state and national crises.

The energy market has changed dramatically in recent years, and Arizona is falling behind neighboring states in transitioning to the cheapest and most reliable power source: solar energy combined with battery storage.

David Jenkins

David Jenkins

Coal and gas generation is now double or triple the cost of new solar+storage. This disparity could make a real difference for those suddenly experiencing economic hardship due to unforeseen events, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Energy security is vital to our health and safety in the face of this rapidly spreading virus. Electricity runs ventilators, monitors, and other equipment critical to saving lives. It also runs the air conditioners patients depend on, whether recuperating at home, or treated in a hospital.

Today the most reliable energy source is solar+storage. Its fuel never runs out, nor is it susceptible to global price spikes or supply disruptions.

Then, of course, we need cleaner air. In times like these, every breath matters.

Nothing can sharpen our focus on the importance of air quality quite like a respiratory illness that exploits lungs damaged—and made more vulnerable—by pollution.

Anything that compromises our lungs—even a little bit—must be viewed in an entirely different light given the hard lessons learned from this ongoing pandemic.

For Arizona, a state with unparalleled solar energy potential, there is no reason to keep relying on aging, pollution-belching, coal plants to provide the state’s electricity.

All of these points were raised back in March at the commission’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) workshop, which I attended.

While it’s clear some commissioners fully recognize the importance of renewable energy to the health, safety and prosperity of their fellow Arizonans, it’s unclear where they all stand.

Chairman Bob Burns and Commissioner Sandra Kennedy have laid out their vision for a feasible and ambitious standard. Commissioners Boyd Dunn and Lea Marquez Peterson have shown interest in a long-term clean energy goal; however, they are less clear when it comes to revising the renewable energy standard to drive the progress we need.

Equally concerning, commission staff keep producing draft REST revisions that are tailored more to the wishes of utilities, like Arizona Public Service Co. and Tucson Electric Power, than to the needs of Arizona and its ratepayers.

On several occasions during the March workshop, staff went out of its way to prompt utility representatives for more direct statements against an ambitious renewable standard. This seemed like an attempt to counter, not only testimony from other stakeholders, but comments from the commissioners themselves.

By contrast, last year neighboring Nevada passed a 50 percent by 2030 renewable standard with unanimous bipartisan support. The same should be a no brainer for Arizona, which receives even more sunlight than its neighbor.

In his recent letter to the docket, Burns agreed, calling for a 50 percent by 2030 renewable standard and a 100 percent by 2050 clean energy standard. Other commissioners should follow his lead and show clear support for the same.

Commissioners need to direct staff to put forward a meaningful, and appropriately ambitious, update to the REST rule they can vote on. Otherwise the commission will keep spinning its wheels to the detriment of every Arizonan.

Thomas Paine, one of our nation’s founding fathers, famously said, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” Such times also reveal the mettle and foresight of our elected officials. Renewable energy is tailor made for times like these. Let us hope the commission realizes this, calls for a vote and finally gives Arizonans a healthier, more resilient, and less costly energy future.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 Arizona members.

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