Solar plant a good idea, once technology catches up - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Solar plant a good idea, once technology catches up

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Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007 9:50 pm | Updated: 6:27 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If cost-effective solar power isn’t possible in Arizona, it probably won’t be possible anywhere else. So on one level, the plan announced this week by a coalition of utility companies to build the nation’s largest solar energy plant in or near the state makes perfect sense.

But with generation of solar power still costing three to four times more than conventional uses, this doesn’t seem like the right time for the companies to attempt a project of this scale, and it’s unlikely they would be if it weren’t for a government mandate pushing them in this direction prematurely.

The Arizona Corporation Commission’s mandate for electric utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025 ignores the need for more research into solar and other renewable energy to make it more affordable for U.S. companies and consumers, not to mention poorer nations around the globe.

Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power and most Arizona utility providers must instead push forward with solar technology we can only hope is made obsolete by more cost-effective methods and build a 250-megawatt plant which will have a quarter of the capacity of large gas- or coal-fired plants.

Also a member of the consortium, Salt River Project’s decision to adopt the same renewable-energy goals even though it’s not regulated by the ACC is admirable, but not necessarily the best for its customers’ bottom lines.

Some companies have been able to use government dictates here and abroad to their advantage; Valley-based Solar First’s stock is currently valued higher than GM’s, swamped as the energy firm is with $6 billion in orders for heavily subsidized European solar projects.

But as the Tribune’s Ed Taylor reported Wednesday, the company has a total of 12 customers, which indicates there isn’t a huge groundswell even with all the continental price supports.

The consortium behind the planned power plant, which also includes Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Southern California Public Power Authority and Xcel Energy, is at least going about this the right way by putting out a request for proposals from potential plant operators to see what technology is available, rather than imposing its will on the providers as the government has done to them.

We’d be overjoyed if, by some miracle, there are huge technological breakthroughs by June, when the consortium wants to award the contract for this plant, and by it’s supposed to come online in late 2012.

But given the pace it has progressed at up to this point, we’re not sure this plant is a wise use of anyone’s resources. The money going toward construction might be better spent on further research.

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