Arizona could become the nation’s leading generator of solar power but isn’t taking the steps needed to do so, leaving neighboring states to reap the benefits of harnessing the sun’s energy, solar proponents told state lawmakers Thursday.
“The technology to mine your sun exists. I believe this state has been ignoring that resource,” said Fred Morse, co-chairman of the Western Governors’ Association Solar Task Force.
More is at stake than just clean energy. Morse said solar power would bring jobs, dollars and tax revenue to Arizona.
“You have the best solar resource in the United States.” Morse said. “Solar energy could become a clean cash cow for this state.”
The state has ideal weather conditions for going solar: Arizona averages 230 clear and sunny days per year, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Task force members made presentations Thursday to the House Committee on Water and Agriculture and the Arizona Corporation Commission. The recommendations were the same at both sessions: introduce policies favorable to solar energy production or get left behind.
“Manufacturers are looking at other states before looking at us (Arizona),” said Kate Maracas, director of Energy Resources Inc. and a task force member. “We do have to step up to the plate to get the manufacturers.”
Task force members said that would require giving tax incentives to energy companies to offset the higher cost of solar energy production.
The goal is to have solar energy prices compete with more traditional energy sources. Their suggestions included exempting some solar energy plants from state sales and property taxes, expediting the approval processes for solar plants and ensuring the stability of current tax credits for solar plants.
Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes called California the “8,000-pound gorilla” when it comes to attracting manufacturers of solar energy components. She said it’s important for Gov. Janet Napolitano to court these companies.
One 10-square-mile plant producing 1,000 megawatts of solar power could generate billions of dollars in economic growth and thousands of jobs for Arizona, according to a Western Governors’ Association panel study.
Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear power plant has the capacity to produce 3,825 megawatts of energy, according to U.S. Department of Energy statistics.
Other potential economic benefits reported by the panel: $2 billion to $4 billion in private investments in the state; a $1.3 billion to $1.9 billion increase in state tax revenue over 30 years, and the creation of up to 5,000 construction and 250 permanent solar plant jobs.
Nevada is constructing a 64-megawatt solar power plant, and California has 800 megawatts worth of solar plants planned.
Barbara Lockwood, manager of renewable energy for Arizona Public Service Co., said that a coalition of at least seven groups, including APS, Salt River Project, Tucson Electric Power Co. and some outof-state groups, wants to build a 250-megawatt solar plant in either Arizona or Nevada.
She said APS plans to have a proposal for the plant ready for the ACC by early next year but warned Nevada is being considered because the state “has done some of the things on the list” of the task force’s recommendations.
Mayes was dismayed at the prospect of APS using solar power from Nevada.
“I don’t think that there’s an argument that Nevada’s sun is better than Arizona’s sun,” she said.
The Western Governors’ Association, a nonpartisan organization, is composed of 19 state governors and three governors from U.S. territories in the Pacific. Napolitano was chairwoman for the group last year.