Last week, Big Solar exercised some of its growing clout by killing an anti-solar bill in the Arizona legislature. Here’s what happened: state Republican senator Debbie Lasko introduced a bill that would have gutted Arizona’s renewable portfolio standard as we know it. Thankfully, a threat by Chinese solar giant Suntech Power Holdings to withdraw plans to put its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Arizona rallied enough pressure to remove the bill from the floor. It was of great relief to solar proponents in the state, but unfortunately, Lasko’s H.B. 2701 was not the only threat to Arizona’s fledgling solar industry.
Republican Representative Carl Seel has introduced a bill that makes Lesko’s look tame in comparison. His legislation would remove the right of the Arizona Corporate Commission - the state board that regulates utilities - to mandate renewable energy standards at all. Arizona passed their RES in 2006, requiring power providers to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025, including a certain percentage from solar photovoltaics.
The Goldwater Institute, a very conservative thinktank named after infamous conservative Barry Goldwater, tried to sue the state, claiming that it was unconstitutional to force any such mandates or regulations on private utilities (unless, it seems, those regulations or incentives promote nuclear, coal or natural gas power plants). Goldwater Institute lost that lawsuit, but has responded by facilitating Representative Seel’s H.B. 2381 that would render the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision moot.
Furthermore, Arizona’s republican governor, who reportedly helped kill Lesko’s bill after industry pressure mounted, also killed a regional cap-and-trade program that Arizona pioneered to put a price on carbon-emitting energy sources.
The recent wave of attacks on solar power in Arizona is troubling for a state that has some of the best solar potential in the world. There are states where one could argue that solar power is not the best renewable option, like the windy Dakotas or the geothermal-laden Northwest, but Arizona is practically made of sunshine. Why any group or lawmaker would want to kill solar power in that state is beyond this writer.
But H.B. 2701 had 51 co-sponsors, and green-leaning governor Janet Napolitano is gone. While Suntech Power Holdings and the industry managed to kill Debbie Lesko’s anti-solar bill, a huge victory among recent attacks, and may very well succeed in killing Carl Seel’s anti-RPS bill, the fact that such contention exists in Arizona may scare off potential solar industry additions to the state. Several states are working to attract green tech industries and the market is highly competitive.
However the fate of Arizona’s solar industry is decided, it will likely be decided soon, as Suntech’s potential industry followers are unlikely to wait around for long while California, Oregon, Michigan, Colorado and other states wait with open arms and less uncertainty.