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Mon, Sept. 16

Talk of the Town: Solar helps economics, environment

The news is sobering these days: Half of Arizona's homes are underwater financially and 9 to 17 percent of Arizonans are unemployed or underemployed.

In the midst of this recession, the solar industry grew more than 60 percent. Innovation and economies of scale have reduced the price of solar photovoltaics (PV) 40 percent in less than 3 years, and solar hot water pays back quickly, using sunshine to save money.

Arizona has a lot to gain in the solar race. Solar installed in Phoenix generates far more electricity than solar in New Jersey - yet New Jersey gets far more electricity from the sun than we do.

But that's changing.

In 1998 the U.S. was a large exporter of solar photovoltaic. Fast forward 10 years, and U.S. one-third market share has declined sharply, while China's market share is rising rapidly.

Arizona's neighbors are driving solar forward. Colorado recently increased its clean energy requirement to 30 percent by 2020, California's is 33 percent by 2020, Nevada's is 25 percent by 2025, and New Mexico's is 20 percent by 2020 - while Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard (RES) is 15 percent by 2025.

This past year, Arizona's legislature enacted a forward-thinking bill to entice solar companies to move here, and Arizona welcomed Suntech. The Legislature can take well-deserved credit for expanding the solar industry.

Solar can provide Arizonans with good jobs, from research and development to manufacturing and installation. Solar creates twice as many jobs per watt as coal. Laid-off construction workers can build plants, idle manufacturing facilities can make infrastructure, and downsized high-tech workers can make solar cells.

A local company that makes solar hot water panels sends many of its panels to Hawaii. Why? Because Hawaii now requires all new homes to have solar hot water. In China, one in 10 homes has solar hot water.

Solar PV can be located close to load, while utility-scale Concentrating Solar can be located near existing power plants to avoid damage to pristine areas. Polls show 75 percent of Americans support solar on public lands.

Our coal plants have served us well, but leave us with issues like coal ash disposal and waste.

The Corporation Commmission is conducting workshops open to the public in April and May. On April 14 and 15 the Commission will discuss European-style incentives called "Feed-in Tariffs."

In 2006, an all-Republican Commission approved Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard Tariff. Perhaps it is time to expand Arizona's Renewable Energy Standard to keep up with our southwestern neighbors.

Commission Chairman Kristin Mayes has worked across the aisle to enact comprehensive energy efficiency, resource planning and net metering rules, and utility rest plans for the good of the citizens. Chairman Mayes' depth of knowledge and fairness have earned her respect from everyone involved.

I believe strongly in bi-partisanship. During my years as a state legislator, I worked in good faith with Republican colleagues and established genuine friendships.

Energy is clearly at a crossroads and Arizona's best days are yet to come. It's not about ideology - it's about our future.

Paul Newman has represented southern Arizona as a legislator, supervisor and now Corporation Commissioner. Anyone wanting more information may call Newman's office for more information 602-542-3682, or visit

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