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The Energy Story of the 21st Century - Arizona Solar Center - Arizona Solar Center Blog

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Arizona Solar Center Blog

Commentary from Arizona Solar Center Board Members and invited contributors.

While blog entries are initiated by the Solar Center, we welcome dialogue around the posted topics. Your expertise and perspective are highly valued -- so if you haven't logged in and contributed, please do so!

The Energy Story of the 21st Century

The chaotic political season that has defined the 2016 presidential campaign experienced a jolt over the Presidents' Day weekend with the passing of Justice Scalia.

Scalia, the Court's conservative conscious, had been key to an expected 5-4 majority on a number of issues that are on the docket this session, including the review of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan is vital to US efforts to not only slow climate change and begin the healing of our planet, but also to demonstrate US leadership on one of the most consequential issues of our time. If the Clean Power Plan is upheld, or in the event of a 4-4 tie in which the lower court ruling prevails, it will cap an eight-year period during which our century-old energy infrastructure, and its dependence on fossil fuels, will have been significantly transformed.

That transformation began in the winter of 2009 when a blueprint for putting the country back to work was unveiled. That plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), positively impacted job creation in many market sectors within our economy. It saved 300,000 teaching positions nationwide, and helped tens of thousands of students get a college education through its increased funding for Pell Grants. ARRA was instrumental in not only averting what would have been the second Great Depression, but in changing the overall energy story for the 21st century.

As the seventh anniversary of ARRA quietly passed last week, the green industrial revolution it set off is still reinventing our economy and providing jobs for American workers across the country.

That revolution received a major bipartisan assist when a delegation of 14 Governors' Energy Directors, of which I was one, met in a conference room in the Forrestal Building in Washington, DC, with the Obama energy-transition team. That pre-inauguration meeting in early December of 2008 laid the foundation for incorporating nearly 30 energy programs into ARRA in what has turned out to be the most ambitious energy legislation in history--a down payment of more than $90 billion on a new energy economy.  It funded unprecedented investments in wind and solar, energy efficiency and electric vehicles, and provided the capital to retool our factories and to train a green workforce.

CrayolaSolarFarm-Youtube-tn.jpgToday these programs are still paying dividends in terms of jobs, energy-cost savings, and greenhouse gas reductions.

Consider for a moment, that in 2009 there was not one single utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plant in the US larger than 100 megawatts (MW). ARRA jump-started the solar transition, funding the first five solar power plants in excess of 100 MW. Today, private investment has grown that number to 28 nationwide--and these plants are supplying clean energy to more than six million homes across the U.S. 

Photovoltaic installations as a whole have increased more than eight times since ARRA funding began to flow into PV projects nationwide.  In 2010, the solar industry installed 929 MW of solar capacity.  In 2015, over 7,430 MW were installed, and as a result the average price of solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent during that time.

According to the Solar Job Census, solar industry employment has grown by 123 percent over that timeframe.  Since 2010 there have been more than 115,000 new US jobs created in the solar sector. The solar industry now supports over 208,000 direct jobs, and when factoring in the solar supply chain that number jumps to over 610,000 jobs. 

ARRA has helped re-invent the US auto industry too, establishing America as the world’s leading plug-in electric vehicle market through its support of 37 advanced battery and electric drive component manufacturing plants. The US also leads the world in electric vehicle (EV) deployment, as ARRA grew the EV infrastructure from 500 charging stations to over 12,400.

ARRA funded the world's largest land-based wind farm and built some of the world's largest wind test facilities. This investment helped bring the cost of wind power down to an average cost of $0.04 per kilowatt hour, which is competitive with other "traditional" forms of energy.  As a result, wind generation nationwide grew by 145 percent from 2008 to 2012, and today more than 66 million homes receive some of their electricity from wind power.

ARRA also brought the nation's electrical infrastructure into the modern age.  More than six million smart meters were installed, including more than 50,000 in Arizona throughout the Salt River Project service territory.

In Arizona, more than $150 million flowed into clean-energy projects and programs that I and a team of dedicated professionals at the now shuttered Arizona Energy Office put in place over a three-month period from February to May, 2009.  Our plan put ARRA funds to work throughout the state. Some of the results include:

  • Funding to provide energy efficiency improvements to more than 7,000 low-income households in every community in the state, saving these homeowners on average $220 per year in electricity costs and creating much needed jobs at a time when work was scarce.
  • Fifty-one Arizona non-profit organizations were awarded funding to incorporate renewable energy systems into their operations, with annual savings estimated at $175,252. The Southern Arizona Red Cross in Tucson was able to leverage $162,970 in charitable donations and utility rebates with a $50,000 federal grant to install a 40 kW PV system on its roof. The system provides between 80 and 85 percent of their electricity needs, making it the first "solarized" Red Cross in the nation. The Boys and Girls Club in Phoenix and Sierra Vista also received grants that resulted in solar installations. The Cave Creek Museum, Chandler Christian Community Center and the Easter Seals in Tucson joined the likes of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Mary's Food Bank and St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in benefitting from ARRA funding made possible through our program to add solar to their operations.
  • Eighty-nine schools installed PV systems under our plan, which targeted the smallest schools in the state in an effort to bring clean electrons to districts that had no other way to fund solar production for their schools. These projects not only put people to work, but over the 20-year life of these systems, electricity valued at over $5.7 million will be produced, saving money for the schools and taxpayers. Projects like the one at Tonto Basin Elementary School, where solar energy is saving the 72-student school between 50 to 75 percent on its electricity bill. It is a story that was repeated throughout the state, from Apache Elementary School in Douglas to Hackberry Elementary School in Kingman, Bicentennial High School in Salome to Beaver Creek Elementary School in Rimrock. Bouse, Bowie and Black Canyon City. The list goes on. Pearce, Picacho and Pine Strawberry. Even Yarnell, Young and Yucca.
  • Through a matching grant program, 41 farmers and ranchers installed 50 renewable energy systems to replace gasoline and diesel generators used to pump water for livestock, crops and fruit trees. The grant funding provided $885,374 and the farmers and ranchers provided $519,299, for a total project cost of $1,404,673. Today these projects are saving over 30,000 gallons of gasoline, 37,242 gallons of diesel, 9,820 gallons of propane, and are producing 271,350 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, saving each farmer and rancher on average nearly $8000 every year. These projects have typical payback periods under five years, and some recouped the investment in as little as two years. And there were projects like a solar-powered water pump at the Cold Creek Ranch in the Mogollon Rim Country--the 10,000 acre working cattle ranch used the federal funds to convert a diesel generator that powered a livestock water pumping system into a solar water pump manufactured in Safford, Arizona. In addition to the benefits to ranches like the Bar X, Campstool, and Date Creek, to name a few, these projects are demonstrating that anywhere well water pumping is needed and grid electricity is not available, solar water pumping can get the job done in an economical way using a product manufactured in Arizona.
  • Our program also provided federal funds to the Arizona State Land Department to develop a GIS system to evaluate whether a parcel of state-owned land is a good candidate for utility-scale renewable energy development. This system has not only allowed state lands to complete a number of transmission studies that have helped fast-track proposed renewable projects on state lands, but it also led to the first-ever solar facility built on state land. A 400-acre parcel of state land in Yuma became home to a 35 MW solar plant as a result of a 35-year lease for the land with APS that will net the state $10 million. The lease proceeds will primarily go to help fund Arizona public education.
  • We leveraged $15.3 million of ARRA monies with $36.4 million in private sector funding that 31 school districts used to implement energy efficiency projects in more than 2000 school buildings that are saving schools and taxpayers $6.9 million per year in utility costs. Most of the schools used a procurement method called Energy Savings Performance Contracts that guarantees the energy savings which are then used to re-pay the costs of the improvements over time.

In addition to the aforementioned projects and programs, our Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program funded with ARRA monies provided the needed capital for clean energy projects in more than 60 communities in the state and every county.

Examples of projects include:

  • Our program funded the installation of a 60 kilowatt ground-mounted photovoltaic system at the Chino Valley water reclamation center. The project saves taxpayers nearly $12,000 a year in energy costs, and reduces carbon emissions by 60 tons a year.
  • Cottonwood was funded to install a 10 kW roof-mounted PV system at its city complex.  The system is reducing carbon emission by almost 10 tons a year.
  • Nogales and San Luis installed 30 kW PV systems at a public works facility and city cultural center, respectively, through our EECBG grants.  More than 60 tons of carbon pollution is eliminated annually as a result, while saving each community more than $6000 a year in energy costs.
  • Our program funded solar projects in Superior, Thatcher, and Tolleson on local government buildings, a water distribution facility, and a police building, resulting in energy cost savings and cleaner air.
  • We funded a solar array at the City of Clarkdale town hall, a 20 kW PV system at the Wickenburg municipal airport, and a solar hot water heating system at the Gila County jail through the Energy Office's program.

I am in awe of the ARRA accomplishments here and across the country.  I was honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of these programs and projects – and to have worked side-by-side with so many dedicated people that gave so much of themselves.  Their contributions mattered then, and they matter now.  ARRA laid the foundation for a new energy economy that will make a difference in our world for years to come.  If the Clean Power Plan survives the partisan challenges it faces – it will build a cleaner energy future on the ARRA foundation.

Jim Arwood
Communications Director

Arizona Solar Center

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