Solar power helping consumers, environment across Arizona
PRESCOTT - Two years ago, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a groundbreaking renewable energy standard that required the state's utility companies to produce 15 percent of its power from solar, wind and biofuel technologies by 2025.
The goal is to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants.
But these alternative energy sources also are saving consumers money on their utility bills and creating thousands of so-called green-collar jobs, which pay well and are bolstering the United States' push to become more energy independent.
Saturday at the Prescott Courthouse Plaza, Sun Edison, a national player in the solar business, brought an exhibit to show off the benefits of solar power and how it works.
"Solar is very effective in Arizona because you have such bright, consistent sunlight with very little shadowing," Sun Edison's Christina Nichols said. "Solar actually produces the most in cool, bright climates, which you have here in the upper part of Arizona."
Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, who was at the exhibit and is a proponent of alternative energy, said the Grand Canyon State is a prime location for solar, which cuts down on the use of coal-burning power plants.
By 2025, Arizona expects to prevent 93 billion pounds of carbon dioxide - which traps the sun's heat, warms the earth and harms ecosystems - from entering the atmosphere.
"My hope is that someday when we fly into Arizona, we see as many solar panels on rooftops as swimming pools in backyards," Mayes said. "And I think we're going to get there through efforts like this one here in Prescott."
A component of the commission's renewable energy standard is that power companies must give rebates to help homeowners put solar panels on their roofs.
The rebate requires utilities to give them 50 percent off the cost of a solar-based system.
This rebate, coupled with the U.S. government's new investment tax credit, would cover 85 percent of the expense. Therefore, it likely would take only five years for a homeowner to pay off a 4-kilowatt system, depending on utility usage.
"After that five-year period, you're flat-out reducing the cost of your utilities," Mayes said. "It's never been less expensive to put solar on your rooftop than it is today."
In 2007, Arizona utilities assisted in installing several hundred solar panels. But this year, because of the standard, they are erecting about 4,000.
Mayes said the numbers will continue to grow by the thousands for both homes and businesses in the years ahead.
The commission estimates the standard will lead to the creation of 50,000 high-tech jobs in this state, including hundreds in northern Arizona.
"Arizona is going to start to see a number of large-scale solar projects pop up," Mayes said.
She added that Phoenix-based American Solar Electric, which installs solar panels and recently opened an office in Prescott, already has brought several jobs to the city.
However, Sun Edison has had a presence here since 1995.
Karl Swanson, Sun Edison's director of service operations in Prescott, said his office manufactures and deploys the monitoring system that tracks the solar production of all the company's plants nationwide.
"In Arizona, solar is certainly as attractive (as coal) from an energy standpoint," he said. "You have as much solar radiation here as anywhere."
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