Solar bill clears hurdle in AZ Senate vote

After a short debate that at times turned testy, the Arizona state senate today approved a major solar bill, clearing the way for a final vote early next week.

SB 1403, “The Quality Jobs Through Renewable Energy bill” is sponsored by Republican Senator Barbara Leff, a 12-year veteran of the Arizona legislature. The bill would extend tax credits and other incentives to manufactures of renewable energy systems that move into the state.

Supporters (who range from the local Sierra Club chapter to the Arizona Contractors Association) say the bill is needed to help level the playing field among states trying to woo these businesses. New Mexico and Oregon already have large incentive packages, and while the Arizona bill doesn’t equal them, provisions contained in the bill would help close the gap.

The Sun covered the debate live, using twitter, under the hashtag #AZ1403.

Live-tweeting

Leff spoke passionately in defense of her bill. When another Senator complained that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers among businesses, Leff said her bill targets a sector — renewable energy manufacturing — not a business and told her colleagues, “Shame on us if we don’t do this…we should be the number one state for solar, maybe number one in the world.”

While Leff pointed out that the bill includes all forms of renewable energy, the legislation will likely help solar manufactures most, and, more specifically, makers of large scale solar products of the kind used for solar farms.

Senator Ron Gould (R), asked some of the most pointed questions (although he admitted he hadn’t read the bill closely). Gould said that people were being deceived about how photovoltaic technology works. The desert heat, he said, makes PV panels 20% less efficient. Gould is almost certainly right that most solar proponents don’t know that heat lowers the efficiency of standard PV. I have no idea where he got his figure of 20%, however, and its use without context is misleading.

It’s true that as temperatures rise, electrical efficiency drops. But many other factors can either offset that drop or increase it.

Click on the image to download the text of SB 1403

Click on the image to download the text of SB 1403

For example, Phoenix has more sunny days than almost anyplace else in the nation. Also, a solar panel on a clear day in Phoenix when the temperature is 100° F can provide more electricity than an identical panel at 75° on a cloudy day somewhere else. The type of panel used also makes a large difference. Older traditional PV captures less sunlight in dim conditions (early and late in the day) than newer thin-film panels, which also capture reflected and scattered light better (the trade-off is that they need more space — but they’re far cheaper to manufacture).

Too, solar technology is going through a fundamental shift. It’s too early to know what the dominant technology for converting solar energy into electricity is going to be, but at the moment concentrated solar power is a hot item (pun unintended, but accepted). Giant mirrors focus and intensify light onto pipes filled with oil, heating it to 700° F. The heated liquid boils water which turns turbines and generates electricity. The hotter the air temperature, the more electricity this technology produces.

This may be far more than you wanted to know about solar technology, but what is important to keep in mind is that Senator Gould’s observation about temperature and solar power was glib and misleading. It was also irrelevant, since SB 1403 deals only with manufacturing of renewable energy products, not with generating electricity, a point Leff had to clarify many times.

In the end, of course, all that mattered was the vote. SB passed by a 2-1 margin and now moves to final consideration by the Senate next week, carrying endorsements from the statewide paper, area leaders and, most important, momentum.

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