Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Kris Mayes talks about Arizona’s efforts to get more renewable energy into the power grid.
Ted Simons: A bill was pulled recently that would have taken the authority for setting renewable energy standards from the Arizona Corporation Commission and given that authority to the legislature. But a lawsuit to remove the commission's power to set energy mandates is still pending. Here to talk about those attempts and efforts to get renewable energy production tied to the electrical grid is Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes. Good to see you again.
Kris Mayes: Great to be here.
Ted Simons: I want to get to the bill in a second but let's start with the transmission idea. They're all talking solar and renewable. But it's got to get from A to B, doesn't it?
Kris Mayes: Exactly. It doesn't make sense to build a lot of renewable energy in remote areas of Arizona if you can't get it to where it's going to be used. Phoenix and Flagstaff and Prescott, and so what the commission grapples with is a chicken and egg problem. Do you build the wind plants first or do you build the transmissions first, how do you go about doing that-- it's a challenge for every state dealing with this.
Ted Simons: Who controls routes and where does the fed want to come in?
Kris Mayes: The fed, unfortunately, wants to come in a big way and the state of Arizona has taken a position we don't think it's necessary. It should remain with the Arizona corporation commission and a model in the country for siting big transmission lines. Because it's very quick, but also very fair to consumers and people would want to be involved in the process. But the answer to your question, right now, this is handled by the corporation commission and one of the things we've zeroed in on the last couple of years is encouraging our utilities to start planning for renewable energy transmission lines. That are very much focused on getting all of that big wind and solar that we have out there to cities and maybe even exporting it to some of our surrounding states and growing a solar energy economy based on this.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, I know you have maps here. Starting with the interconnection request and lots of arrows, what are we looking at here?
Kris Mayes: Basically what you're looking at right now is a map of all of the places where a developer of a solar project or the developer of a -- a wind project has requested to basically get on to a utilities powerline. It's kind of an onramp and they're waiting there. Imagine it's a bunch of cars stacked on an onramp to a freeway. And you look at how many proposed solar projects there are out there. It's huge. It's enormous. A lot of it is in far western Arizona, but also some in northern Arizona where our wind pockets are. And the two things that are stopping the development of these renewable energy program projects are available transmission capacity and financing.
Ted Simons: speaking of transmission lines, we have another map here which probably is a little easier to make sense of. Again, what are we looking at as far as the dots are concerned?
Kris Mayes: They represent the lines that would be needed -- would need to be built if we were going to exploit all of the wind and solar we have in Arizona. For instance, we actually told our utilities go out and draw a map of where the solar and wind pockets are in Arizona and tell us all the transmission lines that would have to be built. All of that is not going to end up being built.
Ted Simons: Right, but that has to be built. It's not there right now.
Kris Mayes: It's not and it's creating a new transmission line or upgrading them.
Ted Simons: We have renewable energy transmission lines, again, what are we looking at as far as the green and blue lines?
Kris Mayes: The lines are the lines that the utilities actually chose. We told the utilities two years ago, we want you to go out and identify your top three most necessary renewable transmission lines. In other words, what do you think Arizona needs to build in order to get this stuff to load. And you see the red line, one of the most interesting lines is the red line that goes from the Palo Verde to Yuma and that line has the potential. It goes through what I call America's solar heartland. And you've got a lot of interconnect requests from developers that want to get on the power line.
Ted Simons: Our last visual gives an overview of what looks to be solar and wind and the idea that they're not necessarily close by and you've got to get from A to B.
Kris Mayes: Absolutely, this map shows the solar and wind zones drawn by our utilities and basically you have about six zones and then seven conceptual power lines to get that renewable energy to load. The one that I would probably focus on is that -- the large circle there. That's America's solar heartland. The solar Mecca of the country and it's says 4300-megawatts. It's more like 12-thousand megawatts. That's a lot of solar that could basically power a couple of state's worth of people.
Ted Simons: It sounds like it needs to get done and yet we had a bill, it was pulled and may show up again and there's a court case regarding the corporation commission's authority in mandating renewable energy policy. Only a couple of minutes left here. For those who say it's not your responsibility, the legislature should be doing this kind of thing, how do you respond?
Kris Mayes: I guess this way. The constitution says it is and we won the first round of that case against the Goldwater Institute. And we believe we'll continue to win as the case moves through the system. But at bottom, what I would say is the commission has set up a very popular renewable energy standard. It's driving all of the solar development we're just starting to see and my response is, we were disappointed to see that legislation and glad that the sponsor withdrew it and we hope it doesn't come back again. But, you know, the bottom line is why should we let politics get in the way of business and growing jobs in the state of Arizona? Ideology, no one's ideology should ever stop us from trying to diversify our energy mix with renewable energy and trying to make Arizona's economy a solar energy economy. We have more sun than anyone else, available land, great regulations; we have two of the top solar manufacturers in the country now in the state of Arizona. (Sun tech and first solar.) It's like having Google and eBay located in Arizona. We could have the valley of the sun in more than one way.
Ted Simons: We'll stop you there. Good to see you again.