Arizona Town Hall: Energy

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ASU Senior Sustainability Scientist Clark Miller discusses recommendations from the recent Arizona Town Hall on “Arizona’s Energy Future”.

Ted Simons: Energy was the question earlier this month at the Grand Canyon, a diverse group of Arizona residents met to try to reach consensus on recommendations for Arizona's energy future. Here to tell us about all this is Professor Clark Miller for science policies and outcomes at ASU. He helped put together the background report that guided the discussion. Thanks for joining us tonight.

Clark Miller: Thank you.

Ted Simons: As far as Arizona's energy resources what are we looking at here?

Clark Miller: One of my colleagues is fond of saying Arizona is something of an energy desert, in the sense that we don't have a lot. There are some resources in the northern part of the state but for the most part we import most of our energy fuels, coal, oil, natural gas. But we do have a potential energy resource that is nearly the best in the country, and that is our solar energys. We all know the sun shine as lot.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, you said earlier the impact of energy. The impact of the energy on the state's economy?

Clark Miller: It's enormous. One component is the direct affect of energy on the economy, apf, they are enormous employers. If you begin to go into some of the smaller utilities, a big chunk of economy, $10 million a year is part of the energy economy. We spend a lot of money on energy, $17 billion a year Arizona businesses and consumers pay. Most of it goes out of state because we're importing fuel. On the other hand there's the indirect effects, which is to say you can't run an economy without energy, just period. You can't do anything in a modern society without energy.

Ted Simons: Which means you need a comprehensive plan. I would imagine just getting a comprehensive plan was discussed at the town hall. Talk to us about that and the kind of principles that need to be applied when talking about the future of energy in Arizona.

Clark Miller: So we talked a lot about the idea of a comprehensive energy plan for several reasons. One is we're, like most of the country, indeed most of the world, at something of a crossroads with respect to energy. We all know gas prices have been rising, energy prices in general are rising. We know there are environmental and sustainability issues associated with our energy systems. So there's an opportunity to look forward and really chart a future. And the town hall made a strong recommendation for a comprehensive energy plan that would -- and I think this is important -- set us on a path towards sustainability by mid century for the state's energy resources and energy development. There was quite a consensus behind that. Of course, sustainability is not the only thing one wants to care about. Accessibility, affordability are critical questions going forward, security, as well. But what we know at the moment is that both on security and sustainability, the current energy system doesn't meet what it needs to meet for our long-term, both the livelihoods the people in the state and the economic prosperity.

Ted Simons: What about environmental concerns?

Clark Miller: So you have a variety of environmental concerns that were discussed at town hall that people feel are important. One obviously is local air pollution, both in our urban areas and in our rural areas. And of course the long-term question that people are asking about is global warming and climate change and the impact of carbon emissions.

Ted Simons: Was there consensus among the folks at town hall regarding renewable energy, that the state is on the right path with renewable? Did they want to see more of a commitment, not so much of a commitment? What did you hear?

Clark Miller: There was a fairly broad consensus about the need for more renewable energy. The discussion tended to go between folks who wanted to emphasize that we need to go modestly and slowly with adding new renewables, that there are real challenges and there are with adding substantial amounts of renewables to the portfolio mix. Against those who saw this as a real economic opportunity for the State, an opportunity to take a leading role is not only the production of solar energy, but also the manufacturing of the equipment that you need to take advantage of it.

Ted Simons: How did affordability make its way into the discussion? Whenever we talk about solar in a serious way, affordability rears its head.

Clark Miller: You have two issues with respect to affordability that are important. One is maintaining affordability, especially for those at the lowest income levels of the population. And that's a real issue that we have to grapple with as we go forward in making sure that we continue to be able to serve those folks with affordable energy. But the other dimension of affordability that comes in is that solar is increasingly cost competitive in many markets -- well, maybe not many, but at least in some markets at the moment solar has already reached what we call good parity. It's no more expensive than other population options that we have available. In other areas, like computers, think of solar panels. They are made of the same silicon as computer chips. And just like computers, they have rapid price declines. Solar panels are on the same curve.

Ted Simons: Are we looking at energy for our own needs, are we looking at providing for others?

Clark Miller: This is one of the big questions that I think faces the state. As we put a comprehensive plan together, the state's citizens are going to have to make that choice. If we're talking about ourselves that would be a significant undertaking but one that would be 1% of the undertaking that would be involved in providing substantial solar energy for the rest of the country. On the other hand, I think it's fairly clear that the rest of the country is not going to be on a long-term sustainable energy path unless Arizona steps up to the plate. The electric power research institute, which is the industry research body for the electricity utility industry, recently came by ASU and in their renewable energy scenario for the country as a whole, they have Arizona producing 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2100. That's a huge amount of energy that would require significant land resources to be put in solar farms and so forth.

Ted Simons: What do we take from town hall? What kind of recommendations do you think need to be highlighted? We've got about a minute left. What do we take from all this?

Clark Miller: Well, I think three things. One is that the state needs to put itself on a sustainable energy path and that's going take a lot of work by the political leadership, the business leadership, and really the civic leadership, citizens of the state. The second that is we have a real economic opportunity, and that the town hall recommendation was to take advantage of that opportunity, create jobs, create revenues in the state and reduce our requirement to spend money out of state for those energy resources. The third is really develop this comprehensive energy plan. It won't be easy, it'll take a lot of work. Particularly when you're looking at an industry, the utility side and the people building solar farms, all of them want consistency. That's their number one message at town hall, consistency of policy. And the plan could do that.

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Clark, thanks for joining us.

Clark Miller: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Horizon," Maricopa County supervisors discuss challenging facing Arizona communities and their priorities for the next legislative session. That's Wednesday at 7:00 on "Horizon." Thanks for joining us, you have a great evening.

Clark Miller:ASU Senior Sustainability Scientist;

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