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Stephanie Sklar: Clean power plan provides promise of a cleaner energy future
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Stephanie Sklar: Clean power plan provides promise of a cleaner energy future

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Earlier this month the Supreme Court halted enforcement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, giving a win to the 27 mostly Republican-led states that are suing to have the new regulations overturned.

Arizona is among the states suing, but the irony is that our state and many others on the list are already moving forward with cleaner energy plans. That’s because at the end of the day, increasing wind, solar and natural gas will not only create a healthier environment, it will save us money.

Obama’s plan, issued last August by the Environmental Protection Agency, would limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by one-third by 2030. It would lead to the closing of hundreds of the most heavily polluting coal-fired power plants and more development of wind, solar and other “cleaner” energies.

Yes, there would be economic impacts of this shift, as the states are arguing in court.

But the plan gives great flexibility to states in reaching their individual carbon emissions goals. This is not an imposing “one size fits all” rule.

Each state, depending on its own resources, is encouraged to develop either natural gas, wind, solar or nuclear energy in addition to finding ways to reduce overall energy demand.

Here in the sunny Southwest, compliance is even easier for us because we have a solar advantage. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory rates Southern and Western Arizona as having some of the nation’s best solar power potential.

Even members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, recognized the importance of renewable energy when they recently approved the 515-mile SunZia powerline project.

The bare fact is that fossil fuel production uses a lot of water. And while we have sun in abundance in Arizona, we live with the constant threat of drought.

A new study conducted by the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute and researchers at Arizona State University that maps Arizona’s solar and wind potential finds Arizona can increase its energy generation enough to power more than 603,000 homes by 2030 and easily meet Obama’s carbon-cutting by developing the state’s abundant and already available solar and wind power resources.

Arizona has at least 15 large-scale solar and wind projects in progress with the capacity to produce 2,032 megawatts of electricity, nearly half the goal set in the Obama Clean Power Plan. These projects are close to having all the necessary permits and papers and could be operational within two years, but they are waiting for the utility companies to grant them “power purchase agreements,” which will allow them to sell the power they would produce.

Arizona utilities need to act quickly. Without these agreements, the projects may stall. Or developers may choose to sell Arizona’s power to other states, like California. This happened last year when Sempra U.S. Gas & Power LLC struck a deal with Southern California Edison to sell the electricity produced from its Mesquite Solar complex in Arlington, Arizona.

The Supreme Court will hear the case against clean power in June. The recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia will most likely result in a 4-4 split, which would uphold the lower-court ruling and reinstate the plan.

Regardless, states should take to heart the reduction goals and find a way to meet them. Resisting is counterproductive and costly. It would be a better use of state funds and state experts’ time to take advantage of the opportunities presented by development of renewable and alternative energy.

The energy sector is already transitioning to a low-carbon future. We should support, not thwart, it. It is good for humans, and it’s good for business.

Stephanie Sklar is CEO of the Sonoran Institute and a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Contact her at ssklar@sonoraninstitute.org

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