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Sinema must support clean energy investments in Build Back Better Act

In this June 22, 2021, file photo, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., leaves a closed-door bipartisan infrastructure meeting with a group of senators and White House aides on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Congress is now debating legislation that could unleash $115 billion in new investments for Arizona, securing our state’s position as a national leader in clean energy innovation and ensuring a growing economy for generations of Arizonans to come. But none of this will happen if Sen. Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t support strong clean energy investments in the Build Back Better Act.  

The Build Back Better Act is a comprehensive plan to expand our clean energy economy and create millions of new jobs, providing a path to prosperity for decades to come. Key to these achievements are provisions that would accelerate utilities’ transitioning to clean energy through expanded tax credits and other incentives. With Arizona’s endless sunshine, these incentives would supercharge our solar and battery industries, spur clean technology innovation and create jobs. We need Sinema to deliver for our state.  

Though she expresses concern about the size of the Build Back Better Act, clean electricity policies represent only about 10% of the plan’s price tag. But the plan’s gains far exceed its costs: Non-partisan think tank Energy Innovation estimates federal policies that reach for 80% clean electricity across the U.S. would create nearly $40 billion in solar, wind and battery projects in Arizona alone. And the Seidman Research Institute found adopting the full Build Back Better Act would pump $115.6 billion into our economy.  

Right now, almost half of Arizona’s electricity comes from natural gas. Gas prices are currently spiking and will remain volatile while technological innovation is continuing to drive down solar, wind, and battery prices. Meanwhile, Salt River Project is expanding the Coolidge gas plant to the tune of $1 billion, despite strong opposition from its customers. This makes no sense in a state with America’s best solar resources. Businesses and hard-working families demand better.  

Our solar industry’s growth is being suppressed by an uncertain policy environment as the Arizona Corporation Commission flip-flops on clean energy rules for the state. But if Sinema votes for these investments, it would be a boon to our solar industry and make utility net-zero goals achievable even sooner than 2050. This would not only create enormous opportunities to build and export solar energy to bordering states with high clean energy demand, but also spur economic development and cement our position as a national solar leader.  

Billions in new investment also mean new, good-paying jobs. Lots of them. The Energy Innovation research shows accelerating the pace of clean electricity in the U.S. would support 500,000 to 1 million new jobs per year nationally through 2030, and the Seidman analysis shows Build Back Better as a whole would create 100,000 jobs in Arizona every single year. Additionally, federal investment dollars could be used for worker retention and for clean energy projects in Navajo and Hopi communities still hurting from the closures of the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine.   

Arizona is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change with two of the fastest-warming cities in the country and unprecedented drought. Heat-related deaths doubled this year and approximately 200,000 Arizonans are at risk of heat stress.  

Sinema has said climate solutions are priorities for her, and we Arizonans agree. Seventy percent of Arizona voters want the government to do more to solve climate change and 70% support specific programs that would incentivize our utilities to produce more clean electricity every year. Federal investments in clean energy would deliver emissions reductions scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Without strong clean energy provisions in the Build Back Better Act, it will be much harder to transition in time.  

Sinema campaigned on a pledge to work hard every day to deliver for Arizona families. By leveraging her position as a key vote in the Senate, now is her chance to guarantee decades of economic prosperity and sustainable, good-paying jobs for all residents in the state. Senator Sinema, all eyes are on you to lead our state and our country at this critical moment. 

Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of Arizona Technology Council.  

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