Group says Arizona should introduce renewable energy mandates

Apr. 15--By David Wichner, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Arizona should take the lead in developing solar and other renewable energy sources by mandating that renewables provide 20 percent of total electricity consumed statewide by 2020, a consumer group said in a report unveiled Thursday.

Boosting the renewables requirement by that much would create thousands of new high-paying jobs, help rural areas, save water and reduce pollution, said Josh McCarty, a representative of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, known as Arizona PIRG.

"Government has been supporting other energy technologies since their onset. We just don't feel this should be any exception," McCarty said.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to increase the current requirement for renewable energy sources -- which will max out at 1.1 percent in 2007 -- in a decision expected this summer.

But utilities and some regulators say moving to 20 percent renewables may be too costly for consumers to absorb.

"We think it's a positive step for the state to be talking about making a stronger commitment to renewable energy. We do have concerns about the level of support," Tucson Electric Power Co. spokesman Joe Salkowski said.

ACC considering cost factors The Corporation Commission will likely raise the renewables standard this year but how far and how fast is not clear, Commission Chairman Jeff Hatch-Miller said.

"We want to go as far as we can without it becoming overwhelming in terms of cost and becoming an issue of reliability," Hatch-Miller said.

The commission has been conducting workshops among utilities, renewables industry groups, and consumer advocates and other stakeholders since last year.

In January, the Corporation Commission staff recommended that the renewables requirement be increased to 5 percent by 2015 and to 15 percent by 2025.

The proposal would raise the cap on surcharges used to pay for renewables projects -- now at 35 cents a month -- to $2 monthly for residential customers.

Renewable energy sources include solar electric, or photovoltaics; wind; biogas, or gas from landfills or decomposing matter; and biomass, or burning woody or other waste.

The chief of the state's utility watchdog agency said the benefits of renewables must be balanced with the cost to consumers.

"This has to be subject to the sanity check of basic economics," said Stephen Ahearn, director of the Residential Utility Consumers Office.

"We can't go 100 percent solar in one leap -- that would be too expensive," Ahearn said.

Report lists benefits McCarty said Arizona could boost its economy and grab a nationwide lead in renewables by boosting the renewables requirement as his group recommends.

According to the Arizona PIRG report, boosting renewables as recommended would, by 2020:

--Create about 6,000 jobs and boost annual wages by $66 million.

--Increase gross state product by an average of $200 million annually.

--Help rural areas by generating more than $600 million in new property taxes from new energy installations.

--Save 23 billion gallons of water.

--Reduce pollution from fossil fuels, cutting more than 11,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 8 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Arizona PIRG has been joined in calling for a higher renewables standard by groups including the Greater Tucson Coalition for Solar Energy, Republicans for Environmental Protection and the city of Tucson.

Public solar-energy projects The city already has asked the Corporation Commission to boost the renewables standard from 15 percent to 20 percent by 2020, City Councilman Fred Ronstadt said Thursday.

Ronstadt noted that Tucson has been a leader in public solar-energy projects, including a photovoltaic installation at the Midtown Multi-Service Center and a large array at a city parking garage being built downtown on Pennington Street.

Valerie Rauluk, chair of the Tucson-Pima Metropolitan Energy Commission and director of the Tucson solar coalition, said the local solar industry alone employs 120 people and contributes $7 million annually to the local economy.

"I think it's time to take this to the next level," Rauluk said.



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