The central theme for Earth Day this year is "Clean Energy Now!" Given what may happen at the Arizona Corporation Commission next week, the choice of "Clean Energy Now!" as Earth Dayís theme could not be more timely.
For the past several years, the Arizona Corporation Commission has been involved in restructuring the way electrical utilities will operate in Arizona, making it possible, among other things, for Arizona residents to choose who they buy their electricity from, just as they can choose who provides their phone service. As part of "restructuring," the Commission has discussed the possibility of adopting a ìrenewable energy portfolio standard. Simply put, a renewable energy portfolio standard requires that a specified percentage of all sales of electricity must come from renewable energy sources.
Now there is a concrete proposal before the Commission to establish a Portfolio Standard that would require one percent of all electricity sold by the year 2005 to come from renewable energy sources. The proposal is designed to benefit Arizona's residential consumers by encouraging technologies such as solar water heating, residential photovoltaic systems, and wind generation. It will also provide a stable market for small businesses focused on developing renewable energy technologies, as well as providing jobs throughout Arizona in businesses that install and maintain renewable energy equipment.
Adopting the Portfolio Standard will also help bring electricity to thousands of Native Americans in isolated locations without electricity. The Hopi and Navajo Nations, for example, are installing residential and small-scale solar electricity facilities, and the Portfolio Standard would accelerate these and other rural electrification efforts.
Beyond Arizona's borders, the market for renewable energy technologies, particularly in third world countries, is rapidly expanding. The Portfolio Standard will greatly increase the Arizonaís role as a center for manufacturing and exporting renewable energy technologies.
Meeting the portfolio standard will require $135 million dollars of investment during the next five years. During that same five years, approximately $20 billion dollars of electricity will be sold, meaning that the portfolio standard will cost less than .1 percent of the gross sales of all electricity in Arizona. In addition, there are 11,000 megawatts of fossil-fuel power plants currently planned for meeting Arizonaís growing energy needs. The Portfolio Standard will result in 70 megawatts of powerññenough to meet the needs of a city like Flagstaff from renewable sources, or less than .6 percent of new energy production. The cost to the average Arizona household will be roughly 50 cents a month. Certainly the Portfolio Standard is a very modest proposal!
Unfortunately, Arizona utilities, mining companies, and other big business are opposed to even this modest proposal, or any mandated provisions that will benefit solar and renewables as part of electric utility restructuring. While disappointing, their opposition comes as no surprise to those who have spent many years promoting the transition to clean energy.
"The global coal industry and most of the world's oil companies and electric utilities have sought to obfuscate, manipulate, spin, or crush past efforts to promote a renewable energy transition," says Denis Hayes, founder of Earth Day and international chairman of Earth Day Network. "Whenever progress has been made on a global environmental issue such as ozone depletionñit has been due to a worldwide outpouring of public sentiment," he added.
Christopher Flavin, senior vice president at Worldwatch Institute, recently echoed Hayeís opinion saying, "Earth Day 2000 - with its central theme "Clean Energy Now!" provides a timely opportunity for citizens to express their desire for a new energy system, and to insist that their elected officials implement the needed policy changes.
In Arizona, it is particularly true that Earth Day provides a timely opportunity for citizens to let their elected officials know they support clean energy. On April 25th and 26th the Arizona Corporation Commission will most likely discussññand possibly decideññwhether to establish a Portfolio Standard. The Commission needs to hear from everyone who believes the time has come to seriously begin making the transition to new and cleaner energy production.
The Commission should support the Portfolio Standard, which is good public policy and good for Arizona.
Air Quality Program Officer
Grand Canyon Trust
The Arizona Corporation Commission can be reached at: 1-800-222-7000. The Grand Canyon Trust (520-774-7488) is a regional conservation organization based in Flagstaff.