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Choice, competition and jobs: A clean energy plan that works for Arizona

Solar panels and wind turbine against blue sky

Over the past decade, the U.S. has undergone a revolution in the way we produce and consume energy. Breakthroughs in the production of traditional energy sources have ended our reliance on hostile foreign powers for oil and natural gas. At the same time, advanced technologies that produce and store clean energy, and use energy more efficiently, are dramatically cheaper than they used to be.

This means, for all intents and purposes, we are energy independent as a nation. But energy independence at the national level has another positive impact: It allows individual states to take control of their own energy needs and boost their own economies in the process.

For the latest example of this trend, look no further than the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s energy grid. In mid-November, the ACC announced a major update of its Energy Rules, which will put Arizona on a path to produce 100% emissions-free electricity by 2050. Not only that, the revised rules will maximize competition between potential electricity suppliers and provide new levels of transparency into the decisions of utility companies like Arizona Public Service.

These changes will put Arizona in charge of our energy future like never before, building on our state’s proud history of innovation in solar, hydroelectric power, nuclear, energy storage and other clean energy technologies. In fact, earlier this year, APS announced its own goal “to deliver 100 percent clean, carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050.” That goal made sense, APS said, because the utility company was already “on a trajectory of increasingly clean energy through solar power innovation, major investments in energy storage technology, carbon-free nuclear operations and advances in energy efficiency solutions.”

The ACC’s updated Energy Rules will provide the long-term regulatory certainty needed to support major, decades-long investments in the Arizona energy sector. At the same time, however, the ACC built much needed flexibility into the rules that play to Arizona’s energy strengths.

Andy Tobin

Andy Tobin

Unlike some other states, the ACC will not mandate the use of renewable technologies to meet the 2050 goal of 100% emissions-free electricity. Instead, the ACC is adopting a technology neutral approach, which will encourage competition between clean energy sources, including Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear station – the nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity – and our state’s rapidly growing solar energy sector.

This is the right way to go. While some environmental activists only support wind and solar, and are openly hostile to nuclear power and hydroelectric dams, it does not make sense to narrow the field of clean energy technologies or exclude carbon-free sources that already have a proven track record in our state. The goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 is ambitious enough and we don’t need to make the work any harder through bureaucratic overreach.

By investing in energy sources that make sense for Arizona, we can reduce and eventually eliminate our reliance on imported energy.  Arizona based solutions are critical for our state’s economy but also for protecting our natural resources.  The use of Bio-Mass (better forest maintenance) as an energy resource also will help in protecting our forests from wild-fires and water conservation.  Keeping more of what we spend on energy inside our own state will also boost Arizona’s economy and create jobs where they are badly needed.

For example: Since 2001, solar energy facilities in rural Arizona have added $9.4 billion to the state economy and created almost 18,000 jobs, according to a study by the conservative environmental non-profit The Western Way. It’s exciting to think how many more jobs could be created by solar and other clean energy technologies under the ACC’s long-term goal. Our state will need all the jobs we can get in the years ahead.

On a personal note, I was proud to serve as a member of the ACC from 2015 until 2019, when I joined Gov. Doug Ducey’s Cabinet as Director of the Arizona Department of Administration. While at the ACC, I pushed my fellow commissioners and ACC staff to come up with a long-term plan to harness Arizona’s clean energy potential.

I also introduced my own proposal, dubbed the Energy Modernization Plan, to get that discussion moving. That discussion has produced an energy plan for Arizona that is both ambitious and pragmatic.  I am very heartened that leaders like Lea Marquez Peterson (Commissioner appointed by Governor Ducey and now recently elected in her own right), are building on this plan and making it come to fruition: The ACC should be proud.

Compared to where our nation stood just 10 years ago, America’s energy revolution is moving further and faster than most people ever dreamed.  Arizona played a leading role in this revolution, and thanks to the ACC’s new clean energy rules, we will continue to lead in the years and decades to come.

Andy Tobin served on the Arizona Corporation Commission from 2015 to 2019. A former Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, private businessman, and head of various state agencies, he currently serves as Director of the Arizona Department of Administration.

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