State's lag in solar energy production examined - East Valley Tribune: News

State's lag in solar energy production examined

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Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 6:42 pm | Updated: 8:59 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Arizona has plenty of sunshine, but that has yet to translate into an equal amount of solar energy production.

To the dismay of state officials, industry leaders and academics, the state lags behind cloud-covered places like Oregon in taking advantage of the ultimate renewable resource. And lost in that lag, they say, are jobs and economic development.

Alternative energies were the subject of a three-day conference at Arizona State University that wrapped up Wednesday. Experts discussed advances in the field, and obstacles to greater success.

"There is no question Arizona should be the solar energy capital of the country, if not the world," Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kristin Mayes said.

As Mayes spoke, she showed a map of Arizona, colored with deep reds and oranges, showing the massive amount of solar radiation energy that is received here.

"When you compare the solar insolation map to the rest of the country, there is no other state where it is ideal to do solar energy on almost every acre," Mayes said.

But to date, Arizona has yet to turn potential to payoff.

State Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott, told the dozens in attendance that less than 1 percent of Arizona's power is generated via renewable energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels.

But two years ago, the Corporation Commission mandated Arizona's utilities receive 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

And the state is fumbling away opportunities to go green, according to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. The organization recently published a study stating Arizona has lost, to other states and Europe, nine solar projects worth $1.8 billion of investment and 3,880 manufacturing jobs.

Between Mason and experts at ASU, there was some consensus why Arizona, despite its obvious natural advantage, trails other states.

Jonathan Fink, director of the university's Global Institute of Sustainability, blamed the state's "political culture" for a lack of public investment in economic development. He singled out the Arizona Legislature, where the free market is held in high regard, as a major reason the state lacks incentives for developing renewable energy.

"If there was a level playing field across the country, that might work," Fink said. "But when you have lots of other states investing in either tax credits or research programs, then we can't compete."

To that end, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council is proposing the state offer to solar companies income tax credits and property tax reclassification.

Steve Goodnik, director of ASU's Arizona Institute for Renewable Energy, said of those proposals: "Incentives don't necessarily have to be a handout."

Meanwhile, Mason told a story about one of her energy-related bills, during the last session, dying in the Senate - and, as a result, how the state lost out on a solar manufacturing plant. She also said that legislative body might be a barrier to progress in the future.

"Change for energy is going to be extraordinarily hard," Mason said.

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