Gas-price crunch should prompt big push to develop solar energy - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Gas-price crunch should prompt big push to develop solar energy

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Posted: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 10:25 pm | Updated: 6:11 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

If ever there was a time to consider alternative sources of energy, this is it. Demand for oil is soaring and so is its price, so much so that economists fear inflation and other serious economic fallout.

And if ever there was a place to consider alternative energy sources, Arizona is it. Almost daily we are bathed in the richest energy source of all: Sunlight. And we now have slipped into that time of year when we need no reminders of its power.

Still, for all its abundance and potential, solar energy is underutilized in Arizona. A group called the Arizona Solar Energy Association wants to change that. As reported Tuesday by the Tribune’s Joe Kullman, the association plans to beef up its public education efforts to encourage governments and utilities to promote the technology.

As indicated on the association’s Web site, www.azsolarcenter.com, the sun can do amazing things beyond scorching our skin and turning auto interiors into ovens. There are solar projects all over the state in homes, businesses and governmental facilities. Scores of solar energy businesses already operate here. Nevertheless, as the site notes, “Progress has been slow and scattered.”

Gov. Janet Napolitano picked up the theme during a recent speech at an energy summit meeting hosted by the Western Governors Association, saying she would like to see Arizona become “the Persian Gulf of solar power.” That’s an awesome prospect, portending lots of money and lots of prestige without, it is to be hoped, Persian Gulf-like political chaos.

The question is how to get there from here. Solar power is not yet so inexpensive that legions of homeowners and businesses are rushing to install it. Nor are its accoutrements so aesthetically pleasing as to be welcome in image-conscious neighborhoods.

Still, the basic premise makes so much sense that its promotion should be an emerging priority for economic and energy officials.

The solar industry, naturally, would like the government to use tax breaks and other incentives to spur its growth. There may be some room for that, but Arizona should be careful. We’re still paying the piper for the misbegotten program that only three years ago almost bankrupted the state to subsidize alternative-fuel vehicles. That program did nothing to advance the science and a lot to give alternative fuels a bad name.

The same must not be allowed to happen with solar power. Government can encourage research, employ solar energy where appropriate in its own construction projects and perhaps create some carefully structured incentives.

The rest should take care of itself. When the market is ripe and the technology well enough refined, solar energy surely will have its day in the sun.

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