As we start to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we need to be thinking creatively and prospectively about how to rebuild our economy. While some reports have indicated that Arizona’s economy has fared better than others—and that we are poised for a strong recovery—there is no question that Arizona’s economy has taken a hit.
Arizona has demonstrated that there is a proven nexus between supporting the economy and addressing environmental challenges. Investments in large-scale renewable energy projects both put people to work in the short term and strengthen our economy in the long term, and they help bring us closer to meeting the clean and renewable energy goals shared by Arizona’s businesses, residents and utilities alike. Arizona’s largest utilities, including APS, SRP and TEP, have all announced their own robust sustainability goals, and polling conducted by The Western Way and others consistently shows that a broad swathe of Arizona voters support efforts to incorporate more renewable energy technologies into our overall energy portfolio.
That is why the recent announcement about The Wilmot Energy Center, in the Tucson area, is so exciting. The Center, scheduled to begin operating as early as April of this year, is a new 100-megawatt photovoltaic project with 30MW of linked battery storage. When it opens, it will bring additional clean — and cost effective — energy as well as jobs and economic investment to Southern Arizona. Specifically, the project, estimated to cost $145 million, will bring with it about 250 new jobs and help TEP reach its goal of 70% renewable energy generation by 2035, a robust move toward greater sustainability announced in July 2020 that involves reducing carbon emissions by 80%.
This project is also further evidence of on-the-ground progress by Arizona’s utilities toward achieving their own clean energy goals over and above the standards set by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which currently only require utilities to get 15% of their power from renewables by 2025.
Recent progress to update Arizona’s Energy Rules has been encouraging: The updated rules now under consideration, which are the product of an extensive and bipartisan stakeholder process, represent an important step for Arizona toward becoming a national leader in clean energy. The package approved in November 2020 will require Arizona’s utilities to provide 100% carbon-free energy by 2050, with interim benchmarks between now and then. The rules also add a more transparent process for long-term resource planning and a competitive “all-source” bid process that will drive lowest cost resources and benefit consumers. Over time, these changes will significantly benefit ratepayers by ingraining transparency, competition and market forces in the resource planning process.
Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson, the first Chair of the Commission from Southern Arizona, has been a strong advocate of efforts to update Arizona’s Energy Rules, taking an active role in ensuring that the new rules package represents a meaningful effort to achieve a diverse and cost-effective mix of energy sources while achieving a robust goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2050.
Unfortunately, progress on the Energy Rules update has stalled because of political wrangling. Yet, with or without an update to the rules, there is no question that the Wilmot Energy Center will play an important role in moving Arizona closer to carbon-free energy generation and inject much-needed capital and job opportunities into Arizona’s economic recovery.
Arizona’s energy sector has always played an important role in our state’s economy and, as a recent report released by The Western Way and Arizona Technology Council explains, it has the potential to play a significant role in our state’s post-COVID economic recovery as well. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, investing in clean and renewable energy resources will ensure that Arizona continues to be a vibrant and thriving place to live and work.