In a recent Arizona Republic OpEd, Arizona Senator Kate Brophy McGee emphasized how solar energy projects boost Arizona’s economy, particularly in rural areas. We couldn’t agree more. Our firm is working with business and government leaders from across the state to come up with a blueprint for how to improve incentives and speed up progress toward creating more clean and renewable energy projects to Arizona. As job-generating powerhouses, clean energy projects not only make good business sense, they also improve our health and energy independence.
As indicated in a March 2019 report by our client, The Western Way, there were 34 utility-scale solar and wind energy facilities constructed in rural Arizona from 2001 to 2017. These facilities resulted in significant economic benefits to rural Arizona, including:
- $9.4 billion contributed to the Arizona economy;
- 17,971 Arizona jobs;
- $1.2 billion in wages to paid to Arizona employees; and
- $16.7 million in state and local tax revenues benefiting Arizona.
Additionally, after construction is complete, the ongoing operations of renewable energy facilities benefit the state through employment, maintenance purchases, and operating costs – to the tune of $63 million in economic output and 700 jobs annually. And the icing on the cake is that the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy technologies has also enhanced their viability.
We believe bringing these projects to fruition in rural Arizona will reap great benefits. Rural areas across the U.S. have had a harder time recovering from the Great Recession, and COVID-19 is threatening to exacerbate the urban-rural economic disparities. Most of Federal CARES Act relief funding has gone to cities larger than 500,000, leaving small cities and rural areas behind. This rural-urban divide breeds resentment and hostility that make it harder for us to come together in the public arena, too.
What we need right now is a shared vision that can bring rural and urban Arizona together to solve our common economic and environmental challenges. Uniting to increase clean energy projects will not only make our state more economically powerful, our strong policies and proven leadership will attract even more investment to our state, creating a virtuous circle of shared prosperity.
Despite its bright prospects, solar is not the only path forward. We need to aggressively pursue creating hydrogen plants and hydrogen fueling stations to power both the energy and transportation sectors with this fuel that emits only water vapor and warm air. We need to blow our current wind energy generation out of the water. Wind energy comprises only 267.3 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity of the 2,087.3 MW in renewable (solar and wind) capacity in rural areas of Arizona. And we need to increase battery storage options to enhance the reliability of the renewable energy system, which struggles due to fluctuations in energy production.
Arizona has a renewable energy portfolio standard that requires electric utilities to generate 15% of their energy from renewable resources by 2025, along with a variety of renewable energy tax incentives. But policies encouraging renewable energy development need to be enhanced in direct proportion to the level we wish to see our economy, health and safety, and democracy grow and strengthen.