Early in the pandemic, as commutes were replaced by working from home, the air over Phoenix cleared. The brown cloud dissipated.
Sadly, it didn’t last. But those few months gave us an idea of what a clean energy future could look like. Bluer skies wouldn’t be the only benefit. A clean energy future promises quality jobs, improved health outcomes, a reduction in the heat island effect and a more sustainable water supply.
Arizonans understand that the more quickly we transition to clean energy, the better equipped we are to reverse the damaging effects of climate change. Three of every four Arizonans surveyed by Gallup for The Center for the Future of Arizona ranked the transition to clean energy as important.
Support grows from there:
- 80% want improved air quality.
- 84% want actions to reduce the heat island effect.
- 86% said it’s important to protect rural water supplies.
Leaders at Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power are on board. APS committed to providing 65% carbon-free energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. TEP will deliver more than 70% of its energy from solar and wind and cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2035. Both companies’ goals are more ambitious than standards set by the Arizona Corporation Commission in May.
Momentum toward a cleaner energy future is building. Despite fears that this means losing jobs and settling for a lower quality of life, the opposite is true.
Three times as many Americans work in clean energy occupations as in fossil-fuel jobs. In Arizona in 2020, nearly 60,000 Arizonans worked in clean energy jobs, with 7% growth anticipated this year. They’re quality jobs, with an average annual salary of nearly $55,000, and benefits including health care, retirement savings, tuition assistance, and career paths for advancement.
The numbers will only grow. Four electric or hydrogen truck and auto makers are starting operations in Arizona, and a fifth company builds kits to convert diesel and gas cargo vans to electric power. They’re joined by lithium-ion battery trailblazers such as KORE Power, which is building a 1 million-square-foot plant in Buckeye, and Phoenix startup EnPower, which makes batteries that charge three times faster than the current standard, have 70% more power and last longer.
Solar abounds, from roof-top installers to the Agua Caliente Solar Project near Yuma and the Solana Generating Station near Gila Bend, which combined provide enough energy to power more than 165,000 homes. Retailers like Albertsons and Macy’s are going solar. Altogether, Arizona solar installations can power more than 810,000 homes.
The state’s former clean energy standards were anemic, yet from 2018 to 2020 they delivered more than $2 billion of economic benefit to ratepayers and saved enough water to serve 44,000 people annually, according to a report from nonprofit Ceres.
Other metrics remind us of how far is left to go.
- The American Lung Association regularly ranks Phoenix’s air pollution as among the worst in the country.
- Temperatures are rising. June was the hottest on record. Statewide, 520 people died from heat in 2020, nearly double the 283 reported in 2019.
- A decades-long drought has reduced Colorado River flows, leading to Arizona farmers being hit with the first in what could be a series of cutbacks. Our forests are tinderboxes.
While Arizona alone can’t solve the climate crisis, we can contribute. For instance, the closing of the Navajo Generating Station and other Arizona coal plants resulted in a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2008 statewide levels. That improves air quality and saves water.
What else can we do?
- Start at home. Do an efficiency audit to find ways to save energy. Refrain from using your fireplace on no-burn days. Consider installing rooftop solar panels. Telecommute or use public transportation when possible.
- Advocate for legislative action that supports clean energy and thus creates good jobs, drives economic development and improves the environment.
- Encourage U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and your representative in Congress to support investments in clean energy. Mesa Mayor John Giles recently described how the bipartisan infrastructure bill would “propel Arizona and the rest of the nation toward a cleaner energy future.”
Arizonans understand the benefits of transitioning to clean energy. Working together, we can make this part of the Arizona we want.
Sybil Francis is president and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.