Committee on Science and Technology
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Op-Eds :: March 17, 2008

Say No to Reneging on Energy Standards [Giffords]

Published in the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona

By Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) 

Solar energy is more than just a clean, renewable source of electricity for our homes, schools and businesses. Harnessing the power of the sun helps our country achieve energy independence, boost our economy and assure a healthy environment for future generations.

Arizonans are working toward the shared vision of turning our state into the national solar energy leader. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, environmentalists, educators, researchers, retailers, homeowners and elected officials at the local, state and federal levels — all of us see the sun as an untapped opportunity. We are thinking big. We believe Arizona's abundant sunshine can light the path to a prosperous 21st century. We are convinced that power from the sun can be transmitted to every corner of our state and across the nation.

This vision is not science fiction, but it could remain little more than a dream if the Arizona Corporation Commission fails to sustain its commitment to renewable energy.

This powerful five-member panel regulates utilities in Arizona, sets prices for natural gas and electricity, and determines how much our utilities must invest in renewable energy. In 2006, the all-Republican ACC wisely decided that 15 percent of our state's energy production should come from renewable sources by 2025. Currently less than 1 percent of Arizona's power comes from renewable energy. Known as the Renewable Energy Standard (RES), this 15 percent mandate emerged after a decade of research and endured the most heavily-vetted rule-making process in our state's history.

Unfortunately, some of the declared candidates running for the three open ACC seats support repealing the RES. Other candidates have threatened to reconfigure it. Such actions would be disastrous. Thwarting the bold and widely supported RES would squander our incredible opportunity to make Arizona a national leader in solar power.

The solar industry is small but vibrant and growing fast. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, from 2006 to 2007 the industry grew by 116 percent and more than doubled its number of jobs. This growth is going to continue and Arizona should embrace it. It is time for us to get out front. Maintaining and enforcing our state's renewable energy standard will help get us there.

With more than 300 days of sunshine every year and an expanding high-technology industry, Arizona should be leading the race for solar energy dominance. That is why I am bringing members of the House Science and Technology Committee, including Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and Ranking Member Ralph Hall, R-Texas, to Tucson today for a congressional field hearing on utility-scale solar power. Top business and policy experts will testify regarding opportunities and obstacles to generating large amounts of electricity from solar energy.

Creating long-lasting and meaningful solar policy for our state, however, will require more than one congressional field hearing. I will continue to convene elected officials, business organizations, researchers, utility company executives and motivated citizens to promote this clean and abundant source of renewable energy. But now, more than ever, the future of solar energy in Arizona is in the hands of the ACC members who will be elected in November.

If a new ACC panel decides to back-pedal on RES, solar companies will hesitate to invest here and we will continue to fall behind. I encourage all Arizonans to evaluate the candidates and support those who recognize the tremendous economic and environmental progress solar power offers our state and nation.

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