Guest Column: Terry Finefrock: ACC should mandate that electric utilities use more solar technology

2013-04-05T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Terry Finefrock: ACC should mandate that electric utilities use more solar technologyTerry Finefrock Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I challenge the Arizona Corporation Commission to fairly evaluate all electricity-generation technologies and act to actually reduce ratepayer and taxpayer costs.

The commissioners wrote in a Star guest opinion piece in December that they eliminated the Renewable Energy Surcharge for solar technology because they believe it is unfair to favor one technology over another. If sincere, then they should also eliminate the annual subsidies they provide to fossil-fueled electric generation via the almost $1 billion of annual fuel, time-of-use, demand and new environmental compliance surcharges they approved for Tucson Electric Power.

The commissioners can avoid and reduce those and other significant costs by compelling our utilities to install more solar electric generation and storage to augment and reduce the amount of fossil-fueled generation.

Details of those costs are complicated, but there's one place Tucsonans can actually see the cost. The steam rising from the Irvington Road generating station is part of the billions of gallons of precious water lost each year by TEP while generating electricity with fossil fuel.

Another way to reduce costs is to change the current "cost plus profit" rate structure - the greater the cost, the greater the profit or fee - to reward the utility for implementing cost reductions.

The "fuel" needed for a photovoltaic system is free and because it is not toxic to humans, the system can be located within and adjacent to our distribution grid. In other words, electricity can be generated close to where it is used, eliminating or reducing the need for many of the current costs. An Arizona Public Service utility study documents that solar electric generation provides the opportunity to avoid 8 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour of ratepayer and taxpayer costs.

A local solar electric generation project of the capacity required to service customers within the Tucson distribution grid would provide many higher-wage construction and recurring manufacturing jobs, compel the provision of solar storage solutions needed to provide electricity at night and stimulate population growth necessary to generate greater utility electricity sales and tax revenues.

Solar electric generation would also reduce and offset remaining fossil-fuel generation from carbon penalties, and the renewable-energy credits could be sold to fund the transition or reduce rates. Additionally, it is likely Federal Clean Energy Technology grants for the project could be acquired.

Our local governments control an enormous amount of land that could be repurposed to create a "green energy" ring around Tucson to promote "in-growth." If manufactured here, solar electric storage solutions would provide significant recurring economic benefits as they are sold throughout the world. They could be another local economic engine like Raytheon.

The higher-wage jobs would also allow us to retain our university graduates, locally grown intellectual property, who are needed to assure a prosperous and financially sustainable community. Local knowledge and services to construct these facilities could be subsequently sold to the Western states and Mexico.

This project supports the values defined by "The Arizona We Want 2.0" report (www.thearizonawewant.org).

When all costs are considered, solar electric solutions already are less costly than traditional generation, and their costs continue to decrease, not increase.

Regardless of what the ACC chooses to do, some version of this project should be considered for voluntary and collaborative implementation by TEP, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the University of Arizona and the Pima Association of Governments.

I am unaware of another opportunity with greater potential for providing such diverse and recurring benefits to our community. Get involved by contacting the ACC (www.azcc.gov) and others to compel them to work together to quickly harvest this potential, to lead and provide these benefits.

Terry Finefrock, who first moved to Tucson in 1956, is a former corporate high-technology manufacturing director and solar advocate. He has contracted for 7 megawatts of solar electricity on behalf of Pima County and provided testimony to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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