John Little: Think Cleaner. Think Better. Think Solar

By John Little —

Solar energy isn’t just about saving the world. It’s also about saving money, creating living wage jobs, cutting air pollution, and putting a strong public face on the clean and wholesome brand of our city.

Over the last 50 years, hundreds of Arizonans have stepped up to advocate strongly for solar energy. Despite their herculean efforts and the reforms and progress they have achieved, renewable energy proponents have encountered stiff resistance, resident indifference, and regulatory hurdles.

As a candidate for Scottsdale City Council, I am calling on the City to reaffirm its commitment to renewable energy, and to take a stand for a cleaner, and more energy independent, future.

It’s easy to be sold on solar. However, our elected leaders must be willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and utilities – and even the Arizona Corporation Commission – which needs to modernize and become more open to renewables. They need to consider the “true” cost of fossil fuel electricity, including the cost of pollution, and also consider the “true value” of solar by considering climate benefits in their cost calculations.

One reason policy makers need to focus on increasing our community’s reliance on renewables such as solar is because it’s what the rest of the world is doing. Renewables are a job-creating machine, outpacing the fossil fuel industry in job creation by a stunning 3-to-1 margin.

Coal mining and other extractive industries are slowly losing importance and losing employment, along with industry market share. A 2019 study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts a 62 percent increase in global power demand and that by 2050, wind and solar sources are expected to make up almost 50 percent of world electricity. This suggests that the future cost of electricity coming from clean sources will also decrease – a potential long-term cost-saving opportunity for Scottsdale’s residents.

So, how can Scottsdale harness the value of solar in our city?

  1. Work with utilities to incentivize residential solar installation by preserving net metering, along with the big “stick” of building renewable mandates into the City’s franchise agreements with the utilities.
  2. Direct our city manager to produce a renewable energy policy outline that doubles solar within an aggressive window, which can potentially be five years.
  3. Encourage innovation. For instance, let’s create solar gardens, to supply residents and municipal buildings with electricity and allow small developers to generate solar from remote sites and sell it through the distribution system, so the City and homeowners can “subscribe” to solar at a discount.

Here Comes The Sun! Arizona has a motherlode of solar opportunities. Our state is ranked in the top 10 for solar production, yet solar energy merely accounts for seven percent of the state’s net electricity generation. We need to do better and expand the “distributed” energy opportunities to keep growing solar. While giant utilities effectively “centralize” power production across massive transmission lines, smaller systems with smaller distribution lines, like solar farms, can provide electricity cheaply and reliably to our residents.

Solar is not a panacea. Unlike wind, which generates most of its power at night when electricity is cheap, solar generation is greatest during peak demand, making it a valuable strategy for reducing the need to build massively expensive “peak production” plants. Reducing peak demand reduces the need for billion dollar generating plants and that’s good for everyone.  Producing a surplus of cheap solar during peak hours also creates a potential new market for battery storage, a great commercial opportunity for entrepreneurs and would be a feather in our city’s cap. Why wouldn’t Scottsdale encourage a battery storage company to come here and carve out a deal with the City to generate surplus solar to supply an innovative battery storage business?

Renewable energy is a global and national issue, but its impacts are felt locally as well. We can only increase its use if we remain on the cutting edge of innovation and demand more of what the public actually wants: cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy. As a City Council member I will collaborate with my colleagues on the Council and engage our neighbors, the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, Tempe, Fountain Hills, Mesa, while working in conjunction with the Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce, environmental groups, business leaders, and our major utility companies. Let’s work together to open new windows of opportunity for solar and let the light stream in.

John Little is a candidate for Scottsdale City Council.