Arizona’s solar future: “Dabble or dominate?”

“Dabble or dominate,” those are the choices facing Arizona, says Barry Broome. “We’ve relied on growth and consumption for too long,” he adds, “and it’s time to change.”

Oh, dear. Is Broome an anti-growth radical environmentalist/socialist trash-talking the market economy?

Actually, he’s about as far from that stereotype as you can get. Currently president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), Broome has spent 18 years as an economic development specialist for cities and states and has a long list of achievements in growing economies and creating jobs. In 2001, for example, he was named Michigan’s Economic Developer of the Year.

Broome just knows a good thing when he sees it — and he’s tired of seeing it slip away.
In an April interview with the Phoenix Sun, Peter Green, the head of Advent Solar, talked about how quickly the window of opportunity is closing for states wanting to attract solar manufacturers. After receiving state incentives from New Mexico, Green choose to locate a new plant there.

Broome just knows a good thing when he sees it — and he’s tired of seeing it slip away.

Broome estimates that the major growth and siting decisions for solar manufacturers will be largely complete in a year-and-a-half to two years.

“We’ve already missed out on $5-$10 billion” in this sector, says Broome, pointing to another solar manufacturer, Schott AG, which chose Albuquerque, NM, over Arizona for a new $100 million factory that will ultimately employee 1,500 people.

Time to decide: SB 1403

It may be a bit of a stretch to call Arizona Senate Bill 1403 the state’s last best chance to become the dominant player in the solar power revolution that is sweeping the country. Defeat probably wouldn’t kill the state’s nascent solar industry outright. But the loss could mortally wound it.

A quick summary of the bill:

Beginning in  2010 and sun-setting in 2014, a business would qualify for tax incentives (capped at $70 million annually)  if they do the following:

  • make new capital investment in Arizona,
  • pay a wage of 125% of the median annual wage in Arizona for at least 51% of net new full-time employment positions,
  • pay at least 80% of the health insurance coverage cost for net new full-time employment positions.
Centralized solar power

Centralized solar power

Backers say the SB 1403, titled the” Quality Jobs Through Renewable Energy bill,” is the missing leg on a three-legged stool of economic development for the state.

With 300+ clear days annually, the state is already well positioned to produce solar-based electricity. With planned concentrated solar “farms” Arizona may well become a major energy exporter — especially to California.

With Phoenix as one of the nation’s largest metro-areas, Arizona has a huge market for solar electricity, taking care of the consumption “leg” of the stool.

And that leaves manufacturing. Or — to put it in more immediate terms — jobs.

Writing in the blog 8523mine in support of SB 1403, Maricopa city Mayor Anthony Smith said, “Arizona is losing the numerous solar companies that are looking to expand to the Mountain West states. And this is at a critical time when we need the kind of high-paying jobs they provide.”

Actually, regional and national blogs seemed to have missed the importance of this legislation. An exception to that rule is The Zonie Report, which ran a full-throated endorsement of SB 1403 early on, under the headline “Republican ladies go solar!” (The bill’s main sponsors are Republicans, Senator Barbara Leff, Rep. Lucy Mason and Rep. Michele Reagan.)

The Zonie also pointed out what is likely to be the bill’s greatest hurdle. Crisis mentality.

Arizona’s economic problems are dire and some legislators may be focused so narrowly on the short term hurdle caused by cutting state revenues (taxes) and miss the far larger mid-term payback from job growth. It would be a shame…hell…it would be a tragedy if such short-sightedness allowed this “golden opportunity” as Senator Leff rightly called it, to slip away.

Barry Broome of GPEC is cautiously optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“The greatest threat to this bill,” he says, “is lack of information.” If legislators get all the facts about the bill, he believes they’ll vote for it.

The bill goes to the full Senate as soon as Friday. If it passes there, the House begins its deliberations. And if it makes it through the legislature there’s still the question of what Governor Jan Brewer will do. No one seems to have a clue about that.

Desert array

Desert array

Brewer (Republican) inherited the position when former-Governor Janet Napolitano (Democrat) was snatched away by President Obama to head up the Department of Homeland Security. Brewer came to office with a reputation for leaning far to the right, but surprised many by her pragmatic approach. She readily took the federal stimulus money that several of her GOP colleagues at first refused, for example.

She’s proved she can make decisions based on the real world, not ideology, but she hasn’t endorsed the bill. Far from it. I talked with her director of communications, Paul Senseman, on Wednesday, asking if the Governor supported SB 1403, in whole or even in theory. Knowing I was on deadline, Senseman said he’d get back to me last night. Didn’t happen. I called again today and left a message. Still nothing, and I expect that’s all the answer I’ll be getting from the Governor’s office. Apparently, “no comment” is too bold a position for her office to commit to at this time.

Which is a pity because the Governor should be the bill’s biggest cheerleader. And, hopefully, that’s a role she will soon take on.

So we’ll have to wait and see what happens when SB 1403 gets debated on the Senate floor. Will Arizona take what seems to be a necessary step to become the dominant player in the new solar economy? Or will we continue what we’ve done so far and content ourselves with merely dabbling in these new-fangled ideas — and then get down to the serious business of praying that the next housing boom gets here soon?

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5 thoughts on “Arizona’s solar future: “Dabble or dominate?”

  1. GoGreenNation: Going solar means fresh, clean energy and a lot of jobs to put it into place. Terrific news if Arizona is able to get these solar plans into action, but it’s clear that the same problems we’re seeing in Florida and at the Federal level threaten this progress – a lack of understanding of the real need and benefits of renewable energy are being clouded by the traditional terms that focus on money, instead of prioritizing our environmental need for emission-free power and lower costs for consumers. Get the word out: Transitioning to solar will put old technologies to rest but it will also generate new jobs and a vibrant economy. Time to say goodbye to dirty power! Great story, Osha! Thank you for your fine work!

    • Thanks, Trish. I’ll be writing soon about the Florida and Texas state bills and why they lost. And Texas seemed such a sure thing!

      Today’s story (June 15) adds water usage into the mix of environmental considerations and energy.

  2. It’s already too late–SB 1403 is meaningless. PV companies have already chosen their homes, and are now waiting out this economy.

  3. SB 1403 means jobs, economic growth, cleaner energy, a chance for Republicans to pick up some green cred, and an opportunity to make Californians pay for all the Arizona water they’ve grabbed, all rolled into one. Governor Brewer, what are you waiting for?

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