The World Economic Forum estimates solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than fossil fuels in more than 30 countries.
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Arizona could see the development of more solar, wind and other renewable energy under a proposal discussed by utility regulators Tuesday.
Commissioner Andy Tobin proposed the state require utilities to rely much more heavily on renewables as well as emerging technology such as batteries to manage power demand.
The current rules were passed in 2006 and require utilities to increase their use of renewable energy each year until 2025, when they are required to get 15 percent of their power from those sources.
Tobin proposed an “Energy Modernization Plan” that includes a related standard for “clean” energy to ensure the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station’s contribution to the state’s power supply is not discounted.
Nuclear power would be included in the clean energy requirement, but coal and natural-gas burning would not.
Tobin has proposed a “Clean Resource Energy Standard and Tariff.” He would include energy efficiency along with nuclear in the mandate. Currently, Arizona has a separate requirement for efficiency measures, such as subsidizing energy-efficient appliances.
Tobin wants to see 80 percent of the state’s energy come from such clean resources by 2050. It is unclear what such a move would cost, but regulators and the utilities will review that as the proposal moves forward.
‘Arizona’s first energy plan’
Currently, utility customers pay a tariff on their bills that utilities such as Arizona Public Service Co. use to buy renewable energy and meet the requirement. APS’ tariff averages about $4 per month today.
The commission heard from some interested parties Tuesday, including renewable-energy advocates, but did not vote on whether to proceed. Tobin hopes to gather input and make an official rule based on the proposal.
“I look forward to the opportunity to have more feedback and really find out where this is going to land,” he said. “This may be Arizona’s first energy plan, certainly the first for a long time.”
Tobin’s proposal is more comprehensive than the current renewable-energy rules because it addresses issues such as electricity reliability, resiliency economic development and innovation for utilities.
The existing requirement this year mandates regulated utilities to get 8 percent of their power from renewable sources, and increase 1 percent annual from now until 2025.
Solar, wind and other renewable energy sources are included in the current rules, but nuclear is not.
Tobin also proposes:
- 3,000 megawatts of energy storage, enough to power about 750,000 homes at once. It likely would come from large batteries. The big investment in batteries would allow the state to make more use variable power sources such as wind and solar.
- 60 megawatts of new biomass power. A plant that size could power about 15,000 homes at once, while the plant is running. Already Arizona has one 24-megawatt biomass power plant near Snowflake that burns wood from the state’s overgrown forests.
- A “Clean Peak Target” where utilities must strive to increase the amount of renewable energy used to meet daily peak demand (when customers draw the most electricity from the grid).
- Extending the state Energy Efficiency target beyond 2020, when utilities are required to meet 22 percent of their demand through efficiency.
- Requiring utilities to plan infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicles through actinos such as offering chargers in new homes.
Increasing the state renewable-energy standard has been discussed almost as soon as utilities implemented the rules. Former Republican Commissioner Doug Little initiated the current advancement in 2016, when he proposed doubling the standard.
Little recently left the commission for a job with the U.S. Department of Energy, and Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former lawmaker Justin Olson to serve the remainder of his term.
A few months later, Tobin suggested that nuclear power be included in the definition of renewables.
The issue never went to a vote, but Tobin’s latest proposal has revived the discussion.
Chairman Tom Forese placed a letter on the docket that said he appreciates the spirit behind Tobin’s move, but is concerned about costs for utility customers.
Commissioner Robert Burns echoed those concerns. He asked that all regulated utilities submit comments on the idea. He also wants to hear from Salt River Project, an electric utility not regulated by the commission but that requires the commission’s approval for power lines and power plants.
Burns wants the commission staff to wait for those comments before conducting their own financial analysis of the proposal.
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