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ACC should raise Arizona’s anemic energy standards – now

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)

Two Lighthouse Solar employees install solar panels on a Colorado house in 2011.  (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

In 2006, Arizona had a mere 9 megawatts of solar capacity and no wind farms, so it was bold when the Arizona Corporation Commission required utilities to generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Arizona was an early adopter of a renewable standard, which at the time was competitive with neighboring states and gave rise to Arizona’s strong solar sector.

Today, Arizona generates the third most solar energy of any state in the nation. Wind capacity has leapt to 268 megawatts. The state’s largest utilities are investing heavily in solar and large-scale battery facilities, while the massive Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired plants utilized by APS have already closed or will shutter this year.

Yet Arizona’s renewable energy standard remains unchanged. No longer groundbreaking, it is among the most anemic in the sun-blessed West. It’s past time to raise the bar.

Interwest Energy Alliance participated in the ACC’s March stakeholder meetings, where staff presented a proposal to modernize the state’s energy rules, requiring utilities to generate 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, while achieving 100% carbon-free status by 2045. But the process has been slow moving, and the time to push the proposal past the goalposts is now. Replacing coal and natural gas with renewable energy will be a boon to Arizona as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nate Blouin

Nate Blouin

Setting this goal would clear the skies in addition to boosting Arizona’s economy. A recent report from Ceres shows how:

  • Arizona’s current renewable energy standard spurred almost $12 billion in solar-industry investments, most of which flowed to rural communities. Today, renewable energy costs less than traditional fossil fuels. That means lower electric bills, a savings for businesses and homeowners.
  • The standard also drove nearly $2 billion in benefits to the public and customers of Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power, and reduced greenhouse gasses and water usage, according to a March 2020 report by Ceres.
  • Expanding the standard to require 50% renewable energy by 2030 would generate an additional $1 billion in net benefits over the next 10 years.

Utilities, which benefit from a healthy economy, understand these numbers. That’s why APS unilaterally set a goal of 45% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2050. The companies driving Arizona’s economy want clean energy, and a higher renewable standard will position Arizona businesses to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn quickly.

APS’s goals, however, are aspirational. They don’t have the oversight of a Corporation Commission standard, nor do they apply to all regulated utilities. This is why the commission’s action is so vital.

Recently, the Commission has shown bold leadership on the issue, with a renewed proposal for rigorous standards that has been supported by a majority of commissioners. The commission has the momentum to pass the updated standards quickly and should take action now.

Arizona needs aggressive, data-informed renewable energy standards. The Corporation Commission is expected to formally consider this proposal in July. Now is the time to express your support. For cleaner air. For greater innovation. For a vibrant economy. Let’s get it done.

Nate Blouin is policy manager for Interwest Energy Alliance, the intermountain region’s trade association of utility scale solar, wind and storage developers and manufacturers.

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