Whether it was the protests of the blogosphere, the ensuing Twitter storm, actions from the Az4Solar team, testimony from the likes of SunTech or appeals from SolarCity, the end result is the same: HB 2701 has been withdrawn by its primary sponsor.
Late this afternoon, according to OnEarth, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's office issued a brief statement saying that House Bill 2701 -- widely condemned by opponents who called it "the death knell of the solar industry" in Arizona -- had been withdrawn by its primary sponsor, Representative Debbie Lesko (R-9).
The full statement reads:
"Representative Lesko's wise and thoughtful actions today to withdraw HB 2701 should be lauded. This sends a clear and united message to employers around the world -- Arizona remains the premier destination for solar industries."
And SunTech issued this statement:
“We applaud Mayor Cavanaugh, Governor Brewer, and the entire Arizona leadership for their swift action this week to keep solar industry jobs in the state and to decrease uncertainty in the solar markets," said Steve Chan, Chief Strategy officer, Suntech. "Our team is eager to return to our efforts to open our Goodyear factory and get Arizona's people working with us to the continue the growth of the U.S. solar market.”
Way to go Arizona.
There is a bill moving through the Arizona legislature that could pull the rug out from under the Arizona solar industry.
Rather than actually build out renewable energy sources, the Republican-controlled Arizona House Government Committee voted to simply redefine what renewable energy meant. By redefining nuclear power as a renewable energy source, with one stroke of the pen, Arizona could succeed in meeting its renewable energy goal. That's because APS, Arizona's biggest utility, already gets more than 25 percent of its electricity from a nuclear plant, the Palo Verde plant outside of Phoenix.
Nuclear is a meaningful part of the U.S. energy mix and despite its many financial and technological issues, it's going to continue to be part of our energy picture. But to define it as a renewable energy source seems arguable. The actual wording in the bill expanded the term "renewable energy" to mean "renewable and non-carbon producing energy." And that means nuclear qualifies.
So, if the bill makes it to law, the utility is no longer obliged to add any more renewable power.
The bill would make Arizona the only state that includes nuclear power in an RES (though Utah might be considering this, as well). The bill also sets up a new, challenging regulatory climate for solar firms and utilities. Rather than being friendly to solar, Arizona would have more government regulation of solar business than any other state.
The Arizona Corporation Commission’s Renewable Energy Standard mandated that utilities must generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources by the year 2025. Arizona also had generous solar subsidies for consumers and tax credits for manufacturers.
Which is why it was an important market for leading solar installer and financier Solar City. And a very strong contributing factor to locating solar giant SunTech's new PV panel factory in Goodyear, Arizona
Solar City, SunTech, Arizona-based Kyocera and even APS, the utility itself, were against passage of the bill. And now SunTech might reconsider locating to another state, according to The Phoenix Sun.
Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity had this to say: "Arizona sent a clear signal to the solar industry by creating its renewable energy standard, and the industry responded. Solar companies expanded here, hired local workers, built local facilities and initiated thousands of clean power projects. HB 2701 would change the rules after the fact. If passed, it would pull the rug out from under the solar industry, eliminate jobs and reverse the flow of investment coming into the state."
Polly Shaw, Suntech America's Director of External Relations wrote to me in an email, "One very important point to us and to many in the industry is Arizona’s commitment to meeting 4.5 percent of its RPS with distributed rooftop generation, and dividing that equally in half between commercial and residential rooftops. That’s important -- siting renewable energy close to demand has proven, documented energy and cost savings benefits to utilities and ratepayers. 2701 removes the DG requirement and its benefits to ratepayers."
GTM Research considered Arizona one of the top states for utility scale PV deployment in the U.S. because of their state policy: an RPS with a specific requirement for solar power or distributed generation.
What motivated these lawmakers to try to make this seemingly regressive change? There was a small monthly fee that paid for the program -- less than $4 per month for residential customers. The sponsor of HB 2701, Republican Representative Debbie Lesko, objects to the fee. And evidently, conservative ideological opposition to government interference in utility affairs could win the votes.
Now, market forces might have to impel utilities to move towards renewables. Or not.
Shaw of SunTech said, "We found a great reception to the solar industry today at the hearing of the Arizona House Committee on Government. Legislative members signaled that they heard Suntech's interests and those of developers who are right now creating good jobs in the state. Based on today's discussion, we think the Legislature will ultimately correctly see the value that renewable energy offers to Arizona's economic future."
That is a very diplomatic response to a very backward piece of energy policy.
The bill has to move on to the rules committee, so the battle isn't over yet.