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October 19, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Clean Energy Innovation

  |   Video
  • Participants in the Southwest Energy Innovation Forum, held this week in Scottsdale, discussed ideas to improve the nation’s clean energy future. Two speakers at the event, Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Kris Mayes and Gary Dirks, director of ASU’s Lightworks, talk about opportunities for Arizona to reach its potential as a leader in renewable energy.
  • Kris Mayes - Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman
  • Gary Dirks - ASU Lightworks
Category: Energy

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Clean, renewable energy is an emerging part of Arizona's economy. Developing strategies to build the industry and promote clean energy innovation was the focus of the southwest energy innovation forum that took place yesterday in Scottsdale. Here to talk about the forum and Arizona's clean energy future are Kris Mayes, chairman of the Arizona Crporation Commission, and Gary Dirks, the director of ASU's Lightworks, a research initiative that focuses heavily on renewable energy. Good to have you both here.

Kris Mayes: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's start with you, Gary. Growing regional energy innovation. What does that mean?

Gary Dirks: Great question, Ted. The idea is that many renewable energies actually have a very regional focus. So, for example, Arizona is blessed with a lot of sunlight, we can grow algae, we can develop photovoltaic devices, they can -- there's a lot we can do. That creates an opportunity for research institutions, like Arizona State University, University of Arizona, for local entrepreneurs, for policymakers to really focus on what would it take to create a really dynamic local economy. Often referred to as the ecosystem that will drive innovation from the Universities, from research laboratories, right out into the marketplace.

Ted Simons: Where do we stand on this?

Kris Mayes: I think Gary is exactly right. And I think increasingly we're going to have to take both a local and regional look at these issues. And I think that's what we've done in Arizona. I think Arizona has over the last eight to 10 years set the table for the kinds of innovation that Gary and Arizona State University and the University system here is probably going to take the next step on. We've done that by setting a renewable energy standard of 15% with the most aggressive DG solar rooftop requirement contained within it. We just established Ted, as you know, the most ambitious energy efficiency standard of 22% by 2020. The corporation commission telling our utilities they've got to engage with more energy efficiency companies to help Arizonans save on their energy. These types of policies which I think Arizona has set in the last eight years will lay the ground work for the kind of innovation that we are starting to see happen.

Ted Simons: Much of what you've mentioned, though, has been in the last few years or so. Where has Arizona been on this?

Kris Mayes: Well, we are out front in the last few years. And I think -- I think when you look -- you take a look at where Arizona stands on a lot of these policies, believe it or not, we have managed to attract a lot of national recognition, and a lot of national respect. We have one of the best RPSs, one of the best energy efficiency standards, we have I believe the best net metering standard in the nation. We're working on renewable energy transmission in a way that we haven't I think no other state is doing in the country. So we're taking steps and we're starting to see the fruits of those labors, but it's going to take time for this to really roll out. It's not going to happen overnight.

Ted Simons: Talk about ways the economy can support a clean energy economy. The dynamics they’re in.

Gary Dirks: Well, there's the number of things. Kris has already talked about the policy side of it. But what you really need ultimately is to be able to create markets for clean energy products. You go all the way to the consumer end, you need the opportunity for people to be able to buy, afford to buy solar panels, for example. Or to energy efficient products. But there's also back from that the larger, and again I'm going to use the word "ecosystem," associated with the industrial group. And that is players in different parts of the chain of manufacturing. So if you're going to do photovoltaic’s, do you have people that can produce mirrors, or do you have people there that can produce the materials you need to make panels? And do you have people that are making the steel, and aluminum, and all of those things? Having all those customers and suppliers in the same general area, the ecosystem creates that dynamic market, where innovation becomes easier. As opposed to having to go to California or to, let's say Massachusetts to work with a company, they're down the road. And you can go right down there and deal with the supplier or your customer. And that really creates the kind of thing we need.

Ted Simons: Are we seeing those satellite industries, if you will, are we starting to see that a little bit here?

Kris Mayes: I think we are. I think if you look around Arizona, you're starting to see companies rise up that just didn't exist 10 years ago. Bright source, first solar, we now have sun tech coming in to Arizona to engage in manufacturing, one of the largest Chinese manufacturers of solar panels. I could go down a very long list of companies that have risen up in Arizona just in the last five years, all because of the policies that we've put in place. But not just because of that, because Universities, the legislature, the Arizona corporation commissioner we are all focused on a clean energy economy and pushing that forward. And it takes sort of a concerted effort I think on the part of all of these different players, but let me tell you, our surrounding states are doing this too. They want this economy, they want to be a leader in this economy as well. They see where this country is going, and if we don't do the same thing, we're going to be far behind.

Gary Dirks: And I would push that to the global level, Ted. As you know, I've just come back from an extended period of living in China, and they take this extremely serious. They're spending enormous amounts of money. The Chinese fully intend to be a dominant player in the world of green tech. I think it's critically important for the American economy for the economy of Arizona to succeed in this area. We have to play. We have to do the kinds of things that Kris is talking about, we have to have research combined with innovation and innovators, young companies, mature companies, good policy, very aggressive finance, all of these things is what we need as a country, and as the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: A lot of solar has been mentioned, even in this discussion, there is more to renewable energy, there is more to green energy than solar. Talk about some light-related industries that are ready to burst.

Gary Dirks: Well, the one that I'm actually quite excited about is microorganisms. Specifically algae or bacteria. We heard a lot about that yesterday. Because Arizona State University has got some very good funding from the federal government to support both of these areas. What this really is -- is recognizing that there are microorganisms, and they are small, nanometer scale, but they are very efficient in growing and producing biomass. They can be modified so they produce special energy products, or health care products, or specialty chemicals and materials. And the technology is just now really coming into its own. And I think this -- there's a lot of potential down the road.

Ted Simons: What else did you hear at the -- what did you hear from entrepreneurs, from researchers, what did you hear from policymakers, are they listening for one?

Kris Mayes: I hope, so because there are a lot of people at this conference, and I think what we heard is -- from my standpoint, what I heard was that there's a lot of excitement around states and what's going on in the states. Frankly, there's not a lot of leadership at the federal level, it's very hard to tell what Congress is going to do if anything on these issues we're talking about. They're not leading on renewable energy, they're not leading really on energy efficiency. They're certainly not leading on the carbon issue. So it's going to continue to be the states that are the driving force behind the kind of both policy and innovation that we're talking about. And I really believe that we are on the verge of potentially something very large happening in our states and in our country in terms of the kind of -- the speed with which this innovation is going to go, because if some of these technologies would take solar, for instance, solar reaches grid parity, or if the kind of algae that Gary is talking about really gets commercialized, you could see entire industries disrupted, and you can see consumers really being put in the driver's seat much their own energy destiny. In a way that I think our utilities and our other industries are -- may not be prepared for at this point. It's very exciting and interesting.

Ted Simons: You mentioned a lag as far as the feds are concerned regarding this. But it helps to work with the feds in terms of funding, and procuring funds, and these sorts of things. Again, how do you work that dynamic?

Kris Mayes: For sure. And I'm sure Gary could speak to some of the funding that's coming in to his University. And we are seeing some stimulus money still going into some of our renewable energy projects. What the federal government I think really needs to do is to say, look, we ought to have a minimum amount of renewable energy, all of our states, we should probably have a minimum RPS so at least the southern states are doing something on renewable energy. The feds could come in and say, you know, we're going to really put a lot of money out there for renewable energy transmission. Let's create a transmission infrastructure bank. The feds could do those kinds of things. Set some kind of uniform policy on carbon emissions or mercury emissions, but do something. So that we know where they're going and where the country wants to go.

Ted Simons: Let me give you three things here. We don't have too much time left. Investment, innovation, policy. Can you rank them?

Gary Dirks: Well, they're almost inseparable, Ted. You really have to do all of it, but if I was forced to rank it, would I start pretty much where Kris has, and that is you really need a good solid, stable policy environment. Because people need to be able to plan against the investments they're making and particularly -- even innovation, you need some reason to believe that the environment that you're planning for is going to be there when you get there. One of the problems coming out of the federal government, this is reinforcing what Kris says, we don't keep our policies stable. Every couple of years the investment tax credit has to be re-upped, or the benefits, tax benefits associated with renewable fuels. That kind of environment really kills investment. Because people just can't plan on it. But I think the stable environment is where I would start.

Ted Simons: Do you agree?

Kris Mayes: Absolutely. And I think the one thing that we've done pretty well in Arizona for the last eight to 10 years is we've said, OK this, is where we're going, we want more renewable energy, we want more energy efficiency, we have a solid standard in both of those areas. We're not backing off of it. And that's what's bringing companies into the state of Arizona. That's what's bringing scientists to our Universities, that's what's bringing all of this energy behind energy. And we can't -- we can't pull away from that. Because the second we do, they're going to move some place, someplace else. It's a great environment for what we're talking about, but we can't back off of our commitment as a state.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Thank you both for joining us.

Kris Mayes: Thank you.

Gary Dirks: Thank you.

Environmental Excellence Awards

  |   Video
  • The Valley Forward Association has named the winners of its 2010 Environmental Excellence Awards. Join Valley Forward President Diane Brossart and the competition’s Lead Judge John Kane, design principal of Architekton, as they spotlight some of this year’s award recipients.
  • Diane Brossart - Valley Forward President
  • John Kane - Judge
Category: Environment

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Every year the valley forward association holds its environmental excellence awards. Here now to discuss some of the winning projects from this year's event are valley forward president Diane Brossart, and the competition's lead judge, John Kane, design principal of Architekton. Good to see you again.

Diane Brossart: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's start with what these awards are designed to do.

Diane Brossart: These rewards really set standards for the physical, technical, and environment development of the valley. They are very prestigious, our first place award, I think they're coveted by the built environment, professionals, and technologists, and so forth.

Ted Simons: The idea that you're focused on environmental initiatives, what does that mean?

Diane Brossart: Well, sustainability and just what is going to make our valley a better place to live. Environmentalism is suddenly gone so mainstream, but this program is in its 30th year. And it recognizes contributions to the built environment, to technology, media, art --

Ted Simons: OK.

Diane Brossart: Several different categories.

Ted Simons: John, what gets the judges' attention as far as the competitors, the --

John Kane: I think the variety of things that are advancing the community -- Things that are pushing the envelope in terms of how things have been done over time, which is really exciting. And they're not just buildings, these are art projects, landscapes, etc.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing any trends this year, anything -- even the past few years, are we moving in a certain direction, or is it just basically each year is distinctive on its own?

John Kane: I think what we've seen this year is connectivity. We'll see that maybe with some of the canal projects. The idea that we're starting to knit together, a lot of the projects were here in the -- within the metropolitan area, which is really exciting. The knitting and the kind of reconnecting of the thesis.

Ted Simons: Let's look at some of the winners. One of the big winners was the Rio Salado Audubon Center. Why was that particular thing recognized?

Diane Brossart: For many reasons, aside from the building itself, which is really impressive and very environmental in scope. The first LEED certified platinum certification in the city of Phoenix. Beyond, that it's for what it does for that whole area of south Phoenix in terms of river restoration and bringing life back to the community, providing a gathering place for people, for facilitating environmental education, for creating an open space in the heart of the urban center. It's a wonderful project for so many reasons.

Ted Simons: And the building is beautiful, and the landscape, the atmosphere out there is gorgeous. You don't realize where you are in terms of the city of Phoenix.

Diane Brossart: It is.

Ted Simons: Trace Rios constructed wetlands was the winner. Talk to us about this

John Kane: It's a reconstruction of a riparian habitat. We've had -- this project actually is bringing back this whole new -- this whole idea of landscape as not only recreation, but also was water treatment.

Ted Simons: Was this a riparian area before, was it lost for a while and now it's being returned?

John Kane: Now it's being brought back to its natural habitat.

Ted Simons: Where was this again?

John Kane: This is a combination project with city of Glendale, Phoenix, and a bunch of cities that came together to create this along the salt river.

Ted Simons: Speaking of folks getting together, Papago Park is the master plan, getting that thing going again. That was recognized as well.

Diane Brossart: That is one of the -- I thought of all the projects that one showed collaboration to such a significant extent with Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, and the salt river Pima Indian community coming together to talk about what could the Papago Park be, what is the great next American park, you look at Central Park in New York, and Balboa park in San Diego, and the potential for what we have right in our central city was quite significant. So this was recognizing a plan for the development of Papago park.

Ted Simons: Recognizing the collaboration as well, correct?

Diane Brossart: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: We have a fire station, john, we've got Scottsdale fire station number 2? LEED certified, platinum, platinum?

John Kane: LEED platinum, the first one in the nation, actually, which is quite a coup. We've got so many different areas that are hard to make that work. Infill project in stale, a wonderful project.

Ted Simons: How long has this building been around?

Diane Brossart: I think it was new construction. And my brother-in-law works in it. And the mayor apparently held up his award at the city council meeting and so there was a lot of buzz in the city about --

Ted Simons: LEED platinum votes any building certified is a big deal. Because that means you have to jump through a lot of hoops and make sure things are square. That was neat to see. Then we brought something new and modern, something perhaps, not perhaps, much more traditional, the Sandra Day O'Connor house. Talk about this project.

Diane Brossart: That was a special project, in that it was the home of the former chief justice, Sandra O’Connor and she lived in the house in Paradise Valley, and then when she sold it, at 1700 square feet around 1981, they took it apart, brick by brick, and reconstructed it, which is really amazing, 6,000 bricks, I'm told, it was deconstruct and transported to Tempe, and it now lives in the Carl Hayden Campus for Sustainability. And is a gathering place for people, it is the center for civic discourse, so it's a place that people can go and air their differences in a beautiful setting.

Ted Simons: And knock it off with the yelling and shouting and relax a little bit.

Diane Brossart: You think?

Ted Simons: What are we talking about, this was a number of things like projects and pads, describe for us what was recognized.

John Kane: The canal itself, relatively small canal, but the idea that it had to solve a function of flooding when it rains, the heavy rain, but they took it so much further with the integration of art, and part of the connection. Where you can ride bikes, and walk along the wonderful piece of infrastructure.

Ted Simons: This is the -- how does that work with the western canal, the multiuse – Is that the same thing?

John Kane: We gave three different awards for three different projects. This idea of connectivity, what has been always in the back yards and we've kind of forgotten about, we're rediscovering our canals and they're becoming a wonderful new kind of front to the community.

Ted Simons: The western canal, a multiuse path project, where is that?

John Kane: The western canal --

Diane Brossart: Is it in Phoenix?

John Kane: That's the Phoenix one. That's the one that's actually I think actually associated with the --

Diane Brossart: I'm wrong, it's the city of Tempe.

John Kane: The six-mile canal, it connects Tempe all the way to Mesa and Chandler.

Ted Simons: That looks like the Ken Mcdonald golf course. OK. And then there was a little canyon trail as well. Talk about that one.

John Kane: Next to Grand Canyon University, a half mile trail, just beautiful. It was run down, everybody forgot it, really intimate, and again, just a small wonderful example of what the canals can be.

Ted Simons: Diane, the global climate change in the southwest and a -- an academy for educators.

Diane Brossart: This was an environmental education project. And we all know teachers have such limited resources and are in such need of help in the classroom. This provides educators with the opportunity to participate in two professional development courses and learn about global climate change, and how you can make a difference, and not only was it instruction that met state standards, but they went on some field trips and really got to have a great understanding and reached 1800 students as a result of that. So it was neat project.

Ted Simons: Another example of how you look at bricks and mortar, or whatever, and you also look at programs and projects. And these sorts of things.

Diane Brossart: Exactly. The academies awards of the environmental community.

Ted Simons: Is that what it?

Diane Brossart: You didn't say you were the master of ceremonies and did a masterful job this year. I'll say that for.

Ted Simons: You well thank you. City of Phoenix, the preserve, also recognized.

John Kane: Special projects, this has been going on for quite a few years, in the '90s they were smart enough to think about saving the native natural land from development. And so these were something that all of us get to enjoy. I think the natural park is within 16 miles of anybody in the community. So it's really close, these are amazing parks for biking and hikeing.

Ted Simons: You see these things, we've seen the videos, we've seen the photographs and things, and it reminds you, because there's a lot of folks yelling and screaming right now, there's a lot of good stuff around the valley and around the state right now.

John Kane: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Same thing for new.

Diane Brossart: I will tell you, because we all hear about the recession and gloom and doom, and this program is very inspiring. And showcases what some of the good things that are happening around the valley, and we really are a leader in the whole green movement, which is exciting, and it supports a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where next year you will see only new projects, or will some of these things be either developed or recognized? How does that work?

Diane Brossart: Once you've won an award from valley forward, you you're not eligible to resubmit in the same category. But could you resubmit in a different category. My guess is you'll see a whole different crop of awards, and every year it's my favorite event that we do, because it is so inspiring, and showcases all the good work.

Ted Simons: Talk about valley forward. And what you do.

Diane Brossart: It is a 41-year-old environmental public interest group, business based, so we bring business and civic leaders together to focus on how do we make the valley a better place to live, how do we improve the environmental quality and sustainability of our region.

Ted Simons: Have you noticed over the years, and again, we're talking now because it's pretty volatile world out there right now, there's some things happening to people, trying to get adjusted, are you finding in that kind of an environment there's more of a, let's get together and get this circle the wagon, or it is more difficult than it has been in the past to get folks on board?

Diane Brossart: I would say, I think people are coming together, and that's the whole good news about some of the dire news that you're hearing. Because valley forward can't do it on its own. We need to collaborate with other organizations and other groups, and if we don't all work together to make the valley a better place to live, then we're all going down together.

Ted Simons: OK.

Diane Brossart: So I would I like to think we're on an upward swing.

Ted Simons: And I have to ask you quickly, I heard that the moderator did a good job, did the emcee do OK?

John Kane: He was fantastic.

Ted Simons: That's all I needed to hear.

Diane Brossart: The judges were pretty good too.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for joining us. Please --

Diane Brossart: SRP, we couldn't have done it without them. They were a huge help, and this is their ninth year of supporting this program.

Ted Simons: Good enough. Thank you for joining us.