Monday, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said he will sign an order to override the Clean Power Plan, fulfilling a campaign promise made by Donald Trump and giving a win to those who want to thwart limits on carbon emissions. Twenty-seven state attorneys general, including Arizona’s (and Pruitt, when he was Oklahoma’s attorneygeneral), filed suit against the Obama administration.
Their argument for doing so is economic — the rule causes harm to coal, oil and gas, and presents economic hardship for states that depend on those industries.
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 in August 2016, 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 have been 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 the utilities and is made up of mostly Republican elected officials, recognized the importance of increasing transmission capacity for renewable energy when they approved the 515-mile Sunzia transmission project earlier this year. The fact is, fossil fuel production uses a lot of water. And although we have sun in abundance in Arizona, we live with the constant threat of drought.
A recent study conducted by the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute and researchers at Arizona State University maps Arizona’s solar and wind potential. It finds Arizona can increase its energy generation enough to power more than 603,000 homes by 2030 and easily meet the rule’s carbon-cutting requirements 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 allow them to sell the power they 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, such as 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.
Regardless of EPA actions, the 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.