Sustainability: Solar Power Report

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A new national report on solar power shows that Arizona is first in the nation in solar power capacity per capita. Bret Fanshaw of Environment Arizona will talk about the “Lighting the Way” report by Environment America.

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Ted Simons: Tonight's look at Arizona sustainability issues focuses on solar power. A new national report shows Arizona is first in the nation in solar power capacity per capita. Here to explain what that means and where the state goes from here is Bret Fanshaw of environment Arizona. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bret Fanshaw: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: The report is titled "lighting the way." What did the report look at?

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. So the lighting the way report looked at the top states for installed solar across the whole country. And then we broke it down for how much solar that means per person, and for Arizona, we were number one in terms of the amount of solar we had in the state per person.

Ted Simons: Basically Arizona is number one for solar capacity per capita, that means how much each of us can use, will use, should use?

Bret Fanshaw: It depends how you look at it. For this report it's the total amount of megawatts of solar installed in the state, divided by the number of people in the state.

Ted Simons: OK. So it sounds like from the report Arizona is among states 10 that account for like 20% of electricity consumption. Talk to us about that.

Bret Fanshaw: That's right. So 20% of electricity consumption, but we have 87% of the total amount of solar that's installed out of the entire country.

Ted Simons: What do we take from that?

Bret Fanshaw: I think there's a number of policies that the report looks at that states like Arizona have put in place that have put us on this path to being at the top of the list.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of those policies. First of all, give us a description and explanation of what net metering is and how much that impacts a report like this.

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. So net metering is one of the policies we have in Arizona that allows someone who had solar on their roof to get credit for the excess amount of electricity they put back into the grid. So there's a market rate that is decided. And you're right, there's been a lot of debate about net metering and it's a little unclear on how whether this report shows the effects of those debates yet, so we may see those effects next year, because the numbers for this report go through the end of calendar year . And that the start of is when some of those net metering changes took place.

Ted Simons: I would -- Even the debate regarding net metering must mean at least a little bit of uncertainty in the marketplace.

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. I think that is what we're hearing from folks in the solar industry. And the debate at the commission has unfortunately continued to happen, so they reopened the renewable energy rules this year. Mostly to look at compliance. I know you had Amanda Ormond on to talk about that. They're going to be coming to a decision about that this fall. I think you're right, we need to look at how can we make Arizona the number one place to have solar energy and from our perspective at environment Arizona, so we have a cleaner environment and have less of these debates.

Ted Simons: So, OK, net metering is something that has pushed the solar power policy forward. We mentioned renewable energy standards. That has to be a biggie.

Bret Fanshaw: It's probably the biggest one. The renewable energy standard for Arizona is 15% clean energy by 2025. And all the top states that we looked at in this report have some kind of renewable energy standard on the books. So that is a really big policy. Within that, we also have a small carve out for solar energy, rooftop solar, which is 30% of the 15, so 4.5 overall has to come from distributed generation is what it's called.

Ted Simons: We've had people on the program, we say that's fine and dandy but the standards are still too low. Do you agree with that?

Bret Fanshaw: I do agree with that. I think you look at places like California and Colorado that have higher renewable energy standards than we do, and they're certainly -- There's certainly room for us to grow. Some people have even said since the report came out that Arizona is overcounted because California actually owns some of Arizona's solar energy. So we counted all the solar in the state, but some of it California gets the credit for because they have a higher standard.

Ted Simons: What is the impact of interconnection, A, and B, before we get to A, let's get to minus A, what is interconnection?

Bret Fanshaw: So interconnection policy is something that allows -- When you decide to put solar up on your roof, there's a certain set of standards as to how you can plug that solar energy into the grid. And here in Arizona you have to do that through a utility company, so like through APS or someone like that. And in other states there are easier ways to connect simply to the grid rather than going through that process.

Ted Simons: Basically we don't have the interconnection standards other states have?

Bret Fanshaw: That's right. We don't. And we're one of the only states out of the top that doesn't have a strong interconnection policy.

Ted Simons: So we're a leader in solar energy, if you're looking for ways to improve that leadership, that would be one of them?

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. Exactly. So an improved interconnection policy, an increased renewable energy standard, and just to touch base on that a little more, one of the interesting places that we've made some progress on and there's been progress made on solar has been at the local level. So if you look at a city like Tempe, for example, just passed a clean energy standard for government operations in Tempe, of 20% by 2025. So they're going a little bit above the state standard, and I think there's opportunities for other cities across Arizona to do the same thing.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned Tempe, Arizona state University, there are solar panels everywhere on campus. You can't find a parking area without being covered by panels.

Bret Fanshaw: Exactly. They've done a lot to put solar on the grid there.

Ted Simons: What about APS and their plans now? They have plans for their own of rooftop solar. What is that all about?

Bret Fanshaw: I don't know some of the specifics, but I know that they are looking for ways to help homeowners to put solar up, which is great, and I think it's a little interesting to see APS -- It makes sense for them to go that route. But it's a little interesting based on some of the policies they've put forward to roll back net metering at the corporation commission.

Ted Simons: And again, when you see that, when you see the policies here, yet you see we're going to get into the business there, and I think save customers like $ a month in electric bills or something along for that particular standard, it's -- It seems like a little uncertainty there.

Bret Fanshaw: I think there is, and I think it's a little bit, you know, APS is looking at how can it benefit itself a little bit more than -- I think people are saving more than $30 a month on their average system size.

Ted Simons: What can Arizona -- Obviously we're in the top and we're number one as far as per capita, but there's a ways to go. What can Arizona learn from other states? You mentioned interconnection, what other things can we learn from others, or are we just -- Is everyone else looking at us?

Bret Fanshaw: I think it's a two-way street. I think both of those things are happening. I think Arizona can increase its renewable energy standard, we can learn that from other places like California and Colorado. I think we have opportunities to increase the way that we finance solar energy. So one thing that has been put forward at the legislature the last couple years is something called pace, which is property assessed clean energy, and it's a way for homeowners to finance solar at a lower cost. So even though the cost of solar has gone down quite a lot, the report shows it's gone down 60% since 2011, a lot more people are able to get it, there are still poll is silo mentalities we can enact to help move that along.

Ted Simons: Greatest challenge as far as solar energy in Arizona is concern. The greatest concern, the biggest speed bump, what's out there?

Bret Fanshaw: Certainly not our sunshine. We have plenty of that. I think it's the will of our political decision makers to take solar energy on and to put forward some of the policies we've outlined. Like increasing the renew article standard, like helping people go for low-cost financing options for solar. Those will be some of the bigger speed bumps as we go along. And I think we'll see if Arizona can keep up with some of these other states that have bigger policies than we do as we continue to put this report out.

Ted Simons: And you put the report out, environment Arizona, what is environment Arizona?

Bret Fanshaw: Yeah, environment Arizona is a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. We work on many different issues, clean air, clean water, and open space. Lately solar energy has been a big issue for us, so that's why we put out this report.

Ted Simons: And if I'm a lawmaker, if I'm a policymaker, a decision-maker, what do you want me to take from this report?

Bret Fanshaw: I think there's a lot of good policies within the report that we can apply in Arizona, whether you're at the corporation commission or at the state legislature, or even if you're a mayor of a city, mark Mitchell took a big step when he put forward the policy in Tempe for them to get % of their power from clean energy, and there's lots of opportunities in Phoenix and Mesa and Tucson and all kinds of places to do that too.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good to have you here.

Bret Fanshaw: Thanks so much.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," hear from an ASU researcher who developed a treatment now being used on two Ebola virus patients.

Ted Simons: And it's our monthly science update with ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss. That's Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Bret Fanshaw:State Advocate, Environment Arizona;

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