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August 11, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Sustainability: Solar Power Report

  |   Video
  • A new national report on solar power shows that Arizona is first in the nation in solar power capacity per capita. Bret Fanshaw of Environment Arizona will talk about the “Lighting the Way” report by Environment America.
  • Bret Fanshaw - State Advocate, Environment Arizona
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: sustainability, solar, power, report, arizona, environment, energy,

View Transcript
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Ted Simons: Tonight's look at Arizona sustainability issues focuses on solar power. A new national report shows Arizona is first in the nation in solar power capacity per capita. Here to explain what that means and where the state goes from here is Bret Fanshaw of environment Arizona. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Bret Fanshaw: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: The report is titled "lighting the way." What did the report look at?

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. So the lighting the way report looked at the top states for installed solar across the whole country. And then we broke it down for how much solar that means per person, and for Arizona, we were number one in terms of the amount of solar we had in the state per person.

Ted Simons: Basically Arizona is number one for solar capacity per capita, that means how much each of us can use, will use, should use?

Bret Fanshaw: It depends how you look at it. For this report it's the total amount of megawatts of solar installed in the state, divided by the number of people in the state.

Ted Simons: OK. So it sounds like from the report Arizona is among states 10 that account for like 20% of electricity consumption. Talk to us about that.

Bret Fanshaw: That's right. So 20% of electricity consumption, but we have 87% of the total amount of solar that's installed out of the entire country.

Ted Simons: What do we take from that?

Bret Fanshaw: I think there's a number of policies that the report looks at that states like Arizona have put in place that have put us on this path to being at the top of the list.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of those policies. First of all, give us a description and explanation of what net metering is and how much that impacts a report like this.

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. So net metering is one of the policies we have in Arizona that allows someone who had solar on their roof to get credit for the excess amount of electricity they put back into the grid. So there's a market rate that is decided. And you're right, there's been a lot of debate about net metering and it's a little unclear on how whether this report shows the effects of those debates yet, so we may see those effects next year, because the numbers for this report go through the end of calendar year . And that the start of is when some of those net metering changes took place.

Ted Simons: I would -- Even the debate regarding net metering must mean at least a little bit of uncertainty in the marketplace.

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. I think that is what we're hearing from folks in the solar industry. And the debate at the commission has unfortunately continued to happen, so they reopened the renewable energy rules this year. Mostly to look at compliance. I know you had Amanda Ormond on to talk about that. They're going to be coming to a decision about that this fall. I think you're right, we need to look at how can we make Arizona the number one place to have solar energy and from our perspective at environment Arizona, so we have a cleaner environment and have less of these debates.

Ted Simons: So, OK, net metering is something that has pushed the solar power policy forward. We mentioned renewable energy standards. That has to be a biggie.

Bret Fanshaw: It's probably the biggest one. The renewable energy standard for Arizona is 15% clean energy by 2025. And all the top states that we looked at in this report have some kind of renewable energy standard on the books. So that is a really big policy. Within that, we also have a small carve out for solar energy, rooftop solar, which is 30% of the 15, so 4.5 overall has to come from distributed generation is what it's called.

Ted Simons: We've had people on the program, we say that's fine and dandy but the standards are still too low. Do you agree with that?

Bret Fanshaw: I do agree with that. I think you look at places like California and Colorado that have higher renewable energy standards than we do, and they're certainly -- There's certainly room for us to grow. Some people have even said since the report came out that Arizona is overcounted because California actually owns some of Arizona's solar energy. So we counted all the solar in the state, but some of it California gets the credit for because they have a higher standard.

Ted Simons: What is the impact of interconnection, A, and B, before we get to A, let's get to minus A, what is interconnection?

Bret Fanshaw: So interconnection policy is something that allows -- When you decide to put solar up on your roof, there's a certain set of standards as to how you can plug that solar energy into the grid. And here in Arizona you have to do that through a utility company, so like through APS or someone like that. And in other states there are easier ways to connect simply to the grid rather than going through that process.

Ted Simons: Basically we don't have the interconnection standards other states have?

Bret Fanshaw: That's right. We don't. And we're one of the only states out of the top that doesn't have a strong interconnection policy.

Ted Simons: So we're a leader in solar energy, if you're looking for ways to improve that leadership, that would be one of them?

Bret Fanshaw: Sure. Exactly. So an improved interconnection policy, an increased renewable energy standard, and just to touch base on that a little more, one of the interesting places that we've made some progress on and there's been progress made on solar has been at the local level. So if you look at a city like Tempe, for example, just passed a clean energy standard for government operations in Tempe, of 20% by 2025. So they're going a little bit above the state standard, and I think there's opportunities for other cities across Arizona to do the same thing.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned Tempe, Arizona state University, there are solar panels everywhere on campus. You can't find a parking area without being covered by panels.

Bret Fanshaw: Exactly. They've done a lot to put solar on the grid there.

Ted Simons: What about APS and their plans now? They have plans for their own of rooftop solar. What is that all about?

Bret Fanshaw: I don't know some of the specifics, but I know that they are looking for ways to help homeowners to put solar up, which is great, and I think it's a little interesting to see APS -- It makes sense for them to go that route. But it's a little interesting based on some of the policies they've put forward to roll back net metering at the corporation commission.

Ted Simons: And again, when you see that, when you see the policies here, yet you see we're going to get into the business there, and I think save customers like $ a month in electric bills or something along for that particular standard, it's -- It seems like a little uncertainty there.

Bret Fanshaw: I think there is, and I think it's a little bit, you know, APS is looking at how can it benefit itself a little bit more than -- I think people are saving more than $30 a month on their average system size.

Ted Simons: What can Arizona -- Obviously we're in the top and we're number one as far as per capita, but there's a ways to go. What can Arizona learn from other states? You mentioned interconnection, what other things can we learn from others, or are we just -- Is everyone else looking at us?

Bret Fanshaw: I think it's a two-way street. I think both of those things are happening. I think Arizona can increase its renewable energy standard, we can learn that from other places like California and Colorado. I think we have opportunities to increase the way that we finance solar energy. So one thing that has been put forward at the legislature the last couple years is something called pace, which is property assessed clean energy, and it's a way for homeowners to finance solar at a lower cost. So even though the cost of solar has gone down quite a lot, the report shows it's gone down 60% since 2011, a lot more people are able to get it, there are still poll is silo mentalities we can enact to help move that along.

Ted Simons: Greatest challenge as far as solar energy in Arizona is concern. The greatest concern, the biggest speed bump, what's out there?

Bret Fanshaw: Certainly not our sunshine. We have plenty of that. I think it's the will of our political decision makers to take solar energy on and to put forward some of the policies we've outlined. Like increasing the renew article standard, like helping people go for low-cost financing options for solar. Those will be some of the bigger speed bumps as we go along. And I think we'll see if Arizona can keep up with some of these other states that have bigger policies than we do as we continue to put this report out.

Ted Simons: And you put the report out, environment Arizona, what is environment Arizona?

Bret Fanshaw: Yeah, environment Arizona is a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. We work on many different issues, clean air, clean water, and open space. Lately solar energy has been a big issue for us, so that's why we put out this report.

Ted Simons: And if I'm a lawmaker, if I'm a policymaker, a decision-maker, what do you want me to take from this report?

Bret Fanshaw: I think there's a lot of good policies within the report that we can apply in Arizona, whether you're at the corporation commission or at the state legislature, or even if you're a mayor of a city, mark Mitchell took a big step when he put forward the policy in Tempe for them to get % of their power from clean energy, and there's lots of opportunities in Phoenix and Mesa and Tucson and all kinds of places to do that too.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good to have you here.

Bret Fanshaw: Thanks so much.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," hear from an ASU researcher who developed a treatment now being used on two Ebola virus patients.

Ted Simons: And it's our monthly science update with ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss. That's Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Vote 2014: Independent Voters

  |   Video
  • The number of independent voters participating in this year’s primary election in Maricopa County could double. That is causing Republican Party officials concern, because many independents are choosing to vote on the Republican ticket. Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Capitol Times will discuss his story on the issue.
  • Hank Stephenson - Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Vote 2014   |   Keywords: vote2014, independent, voters, republican, primary, election, double, issue,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: Lawyers for attorney general attorney tried to convince a judge to stop an investigation of Horne by the Arizona clean elections commission. The commission is checking into allegations that Horne used state personnel and resources to work on his reelection campaign. Horne filed a lawsuit last month in an effort to block the investigation. Horne's lawyers claim that the case is under the jurisdiction of the secretary of state's office and thus the clean elections commission has no authority to investigate.

Ted Simons: Well, the state Republican party officials are expressing increasing concern over what looks to be a significant increase in the number of independent voters participating in this year's GOP primary election. Here to talk about those concerns and talk of closing the primary system by the election is Hank Stephenson of "The Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again. And great job on this, I know you wrote about this, that's why we got you here. Are independents increasingly going Republican side for this primary?

Hank Stephenson: I think they don't have much of a choice. If you're look at the Democratic or the Republican ballot, statewide elections you've got one contested primary on the Democratic side. Whereas on the Republican side, you've got a host of options, from governor attorney general -- Attorney general on down the ticket. So, yes, they're going overwhelmingly for the GOP ballot, but I don't think that's a surprise given the dynamics of the two different primaries.

Ted Simons: So with that not being so much of a surprise, still, Republicans are concerned.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. And I think the big part of this is that independent voters are turning out much more this year. We're already seeing some initial numbers, and it's hard to get these to apples to apples, but it's clear that the number of independents voting in the primary is going to spike this year, it could be two, three times as much here in Maricopa County or the county recorder has been doing education efforts, trying to dispel this widespread rumors that independents can't vote in the primary election.

Ted Simons: And again, Republicans are concerned because according to the party officials here, what they're saying is it has a moderating influence on the Republican party.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. They're looking at guys like Steve Smith who is running for mayor -- Sorry, the mayor of Mesa running for governor, who's just a moderate Republican who they think is going to be winning overwhelmingly by the turnout of independents. If he goes on to win the election. It will be due to the independent influence in the election.

Ted Simons: Are there other races of concern or is this -- The governor's race is the one they're looking at?

Hank Stephenson: That's the one where you've got a big field of six candidates, are running to the right, pretty much party platform down the line. And Scott Smith is the only one who's breaking that mold, who's siding with governor Jan Brewer on a host of issues, common core, Medicaid expansion. And that's the one that has people like Maricopa County GOP chair worried about independents nominating them through the GOP to run on the general election ballot.

Ted Simons: I guess they don't want another situation like they had in Mississippi where they were recording democrats in the open primary. The idea I guess for Republicans is they could be closed or at least limited to Republicans.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. And right now independents have the ability to choose a ballot. You can choose the Democratic ballot or the Republican ballot. You always hear these rumors that moderate Republicans are urging democrats to reregister as independents, and vote in the GOP primary. You know, I can't find any truth to those rumors necessarily but it's one of those things that has Republican loyals very worried, that that could have an influence on who gets nominated as the Republican candidate.

Ted Simons: How worried are they? I'm hearing now talk of trying to get maybe the legislature to do something before the election, to close the primary. What is going on here?

Hank Stephenson: There's an increasing conversation about this. Both at the state level and here in Maricopa County, the party has passed resolutions saying we should close down our primaries to not allow independents to vote in the GOP primary. That's kind of getting a backlash from a lot of people who say if we don't have independents voting in the Republican primary, we're relying on them come the general election to boost our candidate up over the 50% mark. If they don't have a say in the Republican primary, what incentive is there for them to go out and vote for a Republican in November?

Ted Simons: I was going to say, independents could turn around and say you're going to need us one way or another.

Hank Stephenson: They're the largest voting block in Arizona, outnumbers democrats and Republicans. It's changing the way campaigns are run.

Ted Simons: I'm hearing talk of a caucus system. You talk about closed, this is closed within closed. Wouldn't that alienate rank and file Republican voters? Obviously independents as well, but if you go to a caucus system where precinct committeemen and chair people are the only ones going -- Deciding on candidates, that doesn't sound that inclusive.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah, it's interesting because there are a handful of ideas floating out there about how to do this caucus system is one of them. Nobody has nailed down what the best method is, but that's probably as closed as you can get where you're having the precinct commit men, the people with the time and the inclination to be heavily involved in the party, just handpicking the nominees for the Republican side for November. It would lead to more likely than not a very strong conservative candidates which I think a lot of people want to see, but I think the middle of the road, Arizona residents are going to have a hard time agreeing with the most loyal Republican party faithful.

Ted Simons: Not only that, it wouldn't reflect the electorate for the Republican Party. You've got lots of folks that are Republicans that may not agree with their precinct chair people.

Hank Stephenson: Exactly. I think that's going to be a big pushback against this idea. But so far both the Maricopa County and the state party has passed resolutions endorsing this idea, whether it's a caucus system or whether it's just allowing Republican voters to have a say in the GOP primary.

Ted Simons: As far as turnout is concerned, how much do independents usually turn out in primaries, and again, from what you said, we're seeing a big change this go-around.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah. Usually it's abysmally low, around 7%, where maybe the average is 28% statewide turnout in a primary. Independents just don't show up. A lot of that goes back to the misconception that they cannot vote in primary elections. Independents have to request a ballot from the county recorders whereas if you're on the permanent early voting list as a democrat or Republican you're automatically sent a ballot. This year we're already seeing signs that this is going to be spiking hugely. There are about , independents in Maricopa County alone who have requested early ballots already. About , of those are Republicans, are independents requesting Republican ballots. And by comparison, if you're looking at just early voting numbers in the election, you had about ,, , independents asking for Republican ballots. So that's an easy doubling, we could see it continue to increase as they have until Friday to request a ballot. And independents can go to the polls on election day, which is a huge point.

Ted Simons: They go to the poll, ask you which one you want, you tell them and make your decisions. Where are democrats in all this? I ask this because in the end, do democrats want more moderate Republicans on the ballot challenging their candidates?

Hank Stephenson: Yeah, there's a couple different thoughts on that. One idea is democrats have for years kept their candidates to a minimum. They don't have contentious primaries in the state that allows them to get an early head start on the general election in November. Some of them think maybe we should let the Republican party just close down their ballot, their primary, and our candidates will have a much easier time collecting the majority of votes come November versus you know, what is likely to be the most conservative candidate that could be chosen from the Republican field, that's what the P.C.s are going to nominate.

Ted Simons: It's interesting because you hear from democrats, some of them think Scott Smith, that would be great, and others say no, it wouldn't be because it would hurt their candidate.

Hank Stephenson: Exactly. Scott Smith, Fred Duval matchup would be tough for democrats to win, whereas if an Al Melvin who has already dropped out, or one of the more extreme conservative candidates is put up as the Republican nominee, democrats are really hoping that something like that happens and gives them a chance to win at least statewide office like that.

Ted Simons: Last question -- It seems as though historically independents oddly enough, show an independent streak when it comes to voting. You never really know where independents are going to go. That still has to be into play.

Hank Stephenson: Yeah, absolutely. Independents is not a party. There is no party ideology, it's people who don't align with the Democratic party or the Republican party. Or who just want to declare their independents. But there are some things we can say about independents. By registering as an independent you're declaring yourself independent. So they go for like-minded candidates. Candidates willing to break their party's platform, whether it be on the Democratic or Republican side. That's the usual thinking about independents and for some, to some degree we're seeing polls not necessarily totally scientific, that back that. That they are going overwhelmingly for Mr. Smith in the Republican primary.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right, good stuff. Good story. Thanks for being here.

Hank Stephenson: Thanks for having me, Ted.