Arizona’s solar future: “Dabble or dominate?”

“Dabble or dominate,” those are the choices facing Arizona, saysBarry Broome. “We’ve relied on growth and consumption for too long,” headds, “and it’s time to change.”

Oh, dear. Is Broome an anti-growth radical environmentalist/socialist trash-talking the market economy?

Actually, he’s about as far from that stereotype as you can get.Currently president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council(GPEC), Broome has spent 18 years as an economic development specialistfor cities and states and has a long list of achievements in growingeconomies and creating jobs. In 2001, for example, he was namedMichigan’s Economic Developer of the Year.

Broome just knows a good thing when he sees it — and he’s tired of seeing it slip away.
In an April interview with the Phoenix Sun,Peter Green, the head of Advent Solar, talked about how quickly thewindow of opportunity is closing for states wanting to attract solarmanufacturers. After receiving state incentives from New Mexico, Greenchoose to locate a new plant there.

Broome estimates that the major growth and siting decisions forsolar manufacturers will be largely complete in a year-and-a-half totwo years.

“We’ve already missed out on $5-$10 billion” in this sector, saysBroome, pointing to another solar manufacturer, Schott AG, which choseAlbuquerque, NM, over Arizona for a new $100 million factory that willultimately employee 1,500 people.

Time to decide: SB 1403

It may be a bit of a stretch to call Arizona Senate Bill 1403 thestate’s last best chance to become the dominant player in the solarpower revolution that is sweeping the country. Defeat probably wouldn’tkill the state’s nascent solar industry outright. But the loss could mortally wound it.

A quick summary of the bill:

Beginning in  2010 and sun-setting in2014, a business would qualify for tax incentives (capped at $70million annually)  if they do the following:

  • make new capital investment in Arizona,
  • pay a wage of 125% of the median annual wage in Arizona for at least 51% of net new full-time employment positions,
  • pay at least 80% of the health insurance coverage cost for net new full-time employment positions.
solar power Arizona’s solar future: “Dabble or dominate?”

Centralized solar power

Backers say the SB 1403, titled the” Quality Jobs Through RenewableEnergy bill,” is the missing leg on a three-legged stool of economicdevelopment for the state.

With 300+ clear days annually, the state is already well positionedto produce solar-based electricity. With planned concentrated solar“farms” Arizona may well become a major energy exporter — especially toCalifornia.

With Phoenix as one of the nation’s largest metro-areas, Arizona hasa huge market for solar electricity, taking care of the consumption“leg” of the stool.

And that leaves manufacturing. Or — to put it in more immediate terms — jobs.

Writing in the blog 8523minein support of SB 1403, Maricopa city Mayor Anthony Smith said, “Arizonais losing the numerous solar companies that are looking to expand tothe Mountain West states. And this is at a critical time when we needthe kind of high-paying jobs they provide.”

Actually, regional and national blogs seemed to have missed the importance of this legislation. An exception to that rule is The Zonie Report,which ran a full-throated endorsement of SB 1403 early on, under theheadline “Republican ladies go solar!” (The bill’s main sponsors areRepublicans, Senator Barbara Leff, Rep. Lucy Mason and Rep. MicheleReagan.)

The Zonie also pointed out what is likely to be the bill’s greatest hurdle. Crisis mentality.

Arizona’s economic problems are dire and some legislators may befocused so narrowly on the short term hurdle caused by cutting staterevenues (taxes) and miss the far larger mid-term payback from jobgrowth. It would be a shame…hell…it would be a tragedy if such short-sightedness allowed this “golden opportunity” as Senator Leff rightly called it, to slip away.

Barry Broome of GPEC is cautiously optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“The greatest threat to this bill,” he says, “is lack ofinformation.” If legislators get all the facts about the bill, hebelieves they’ll vote for it.

The bill goes to the full Senate as soon as Friday. If it passesthere, the House begins its deliberations. And if it makes it throughthe legislature there’s still the question of what Governor Jan Brewerwill do. No one seems to have a clue about that.

solar panels 300x154 Arizona’s solar future: “Dabble or dominate?”

Desert array

Brewer (Republican) inherited the position when former-GovernorJanet Napolitano (Democrat) was snatched away by President Obama tohead up the Department of Homeland Security. Brewer came to office witha reputation for leaning far to the right, but surprised many by herpragmatic approach. She readily took the federal stimulus money thatseveral of her GOP colleagues at first refused, for example.

She’s proved she can make decisions based on the real world, notideology, but she hasn’t endorsed the bill. Far from it. I talked withher director of communications, Paul Senseman, on Wednesday, asking ifthe Governor supported SB 1403, in whole or even in theory. Knowing Iwas on deadline, Senseman said he’d get back to me last night. Didn’thappen. I called again today and left a message. Still nothing, and Iexpect that’s all the answer I’ll be getting from the Governor’soffice. Apparently, “no comment” is too bold a position for her officeto commit to at this time.

Which is a pity because the Governor should be the bill’s biggestcheerleader. And, hopefully, that’s a role she will soon take on.

So we’ll have to wait and see what happens when SB 1403 gets debatedon the Senate floor. Will Arizona take what seems to be a necessarystep to become the dominant player in the new solar economy? Or will wecontinue what we’ve done so far and content ourselves with merelydabbling in these new-fangled ideas — and then get down to the seriousbusiness of praying that the next housing boom gets here soon?