Guest Commentary

Tucson's mayor remarks on the changes likely coming to solar energy in Arizona

From governor to school board member, many races were on the November 2014 ballot—including two seats on the five-member Arizona Corporation Commission.

The Commission has a number of functions, but one of the most important is the regulation of utilities. In fact, there's a rule change before the Commission now that could cost Arizonans $9 billion over the next five years.

If approved, it would do away with requirements for utilities to increase energy efficiency through programs that reduce consumption. As the Arizona Republic reports, the programs, "which also conserve water and reduce pollution, are projected to save consumers $9 billion on their utility bills through 2020." Commission staff filed the proposed rule change less than five hours before the polls closed on Election Day—much too late for such a controversial measure to be part of any candidate debates.

The proposal would do away with requirements that led to programs like Trees for Tucson. Over the last 20 years or so, Tucson Electric Power has helped fund the planting of more than 100,000 trees through Trees for Tucson—trees that provide shade, cool buildings, and reduce energy demand. My own 10,000 Trees Campaign, now on our second 10,000 trees, relies in large part on this program. Also on the chopping block would be weatherization programs for low-income homeowners, rebates for energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and a host of other programs that help Arizonans save money, reduce pollution and increase energy security.

Yet another rule change would affect our solar industry. Changing the way utilities claim credits for renewable energy would dramatically reduce the value of these incentives, and their effectiveness.

These are not the kind of forward-thinking measures that won Tucson our Solar America City designation in 2008, and I hope the Commission rejects them both.

Solar power and the solar industry are important to Tucson. Technology is one of the Five T's of our local economy (the others being trade, transportation, tourism and teaching), and solar is a technology-driven industry.

In Tucson, we continue to promote solar. In 2013, the city waived up to $200,000 of permitting fees to help residents install solar. Since then, we've set a low standard fee, and we're issuing more permits this year than last. Our Sustainable Code Committee has been working on Solar Development Standards to make code requirements clearer and more concise for consumers and installers.

To date, we've installed 15 solar arrays at city-owned properties. Every year, these 15 arrays produce more than 3.3 million kilowatt hours of energy, offsetting 3,840 metric tons of carbon dioxide and saving the city and taxpayers substantial utility costs.

Last December, Tucson Water installed a large solar array at one of its recharge facilities, generating 4 megawatts of solar energy to support pumping operations. And, the city was approved to purchase an additional 9.3 megawatts of solar energy through Tucson Electric Power's community solar program.

We continue to look for ways to conserve. City staff are working to set and meet more stringent goals for energy and water conservation at city-owned properties. We're introducing a program called TUMS, Tucson Utility Management System, to help monitor energy and water use, set baselines, and track progress toward goals.

Finally, the city has been working with various stakeholders to try to pass CPACE (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy) legislation at the state level, to help businesses finance solar projects and efficiency upgrades. A business-friendly measure that provides no tax money but relies instead on private sector lenders, CPACE has passed in other states.

Clean, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy security are critical issues, especially for the Southwestern United States. They are among the most important challenges we face, and Tucson is working to meet them.

To comment on the Commission's proposed elimination of energy efficiency mandates, reference docket number E-00000XX-13-0214 and email or send a letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission, 1200 W. Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007-2996.

To comment on the Commission's proposal to change the way utilities claim credits for renewable energy, reference docket number RE-00000C-14-0112.

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