A while back, a prominent American told two close friends: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
No, it wasn’t Al Gore. It was Thomas Edison, in a conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, in 1931.
The sun has always played a part in Arizona’s economy. It helps to nurture our crops. Our sunny skies brought Cactus League baseball and winter visitors to the Valley. But as far as an energy source, up to now, Arizona has turned its back on the sun. It’s a strange irony that rainy Oregon, foggy San Francisco, gloomy Japan and Germany all utilize the sun more than we do.
But we’re catching up. And we should. Arizona can be the Saudi Arabia of solar energy. By any map, Arizona is the focus of a fantastic concentration of solar radiation, particularly in western Maricopa County, where even the Gila monsters would vacation in San Diego if they could.
• In that part of the county, six utility-scale solar energy projects are in various stages of planning and development. You haven’t heard of these projects yet. But you might have driven past the home communities on your way to the coast — Gila Bend, Harquahala, Tonopah and Arlington.
• Some of the impetus comes from the foresight of the Arizona Corporation Commission which has established renewable energy standards that will require regulated utilities get 15 percent of their power from solar or renewable sources by 2025.
• Arizona has attracted solar manufacturers, bringing green collar jobs, good pay and new money. Suntech from China is building a plant in Goodyear. And we have a number of formidable solar energy companies now serving a local, national and worldwide market. Clearly, solar energy is not only a power source. It is a source of economic power, fueling new jobs that Arizona desperately needs.
Arizonans seem to be warming to the idea of solar panels on their roofs to heat their water and supply electricity. Solar panels are popping up on the roofs of Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, the Phoenix Convention Center and US Airways Center. Just recently, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors signed a public-private partnership to produce 1,500 kilowatts of power a year from solar arrays built on top of three county buildings in downtown Phoenix. We’re going to save almost $1 million in energy costs and soften our carbon footprint by 14.8 million pounds.
As I drive across the Valley, I envision a sea of solar roofs on the tops of hundreds of commercial buildings and residences, all producing energy, conserving power and reducing our dependence on foreign oil from hostile nations.
Yeah, I’ve heard the naysayers. Sadly, the recent West Virginia mining accident reminds us of the health hazards of coal. It’s not cheap, at any price. And the comparative costs of solar energy will fall with more volume, production and investment.
If we make solar part of our energy future, the sun will shine even brighter on Arizona.
Supervisor Don Stapley is a Mesa resident and chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.